HL Deb 30 April 1913 vol 14 cc364-9

*LORD LAMINGTON had the following Questions on the Paper—

To ask what steps His Majesty's Government, in conjunction with other Powers, are taking to secure the future autonomy of Albania.

To ask His Majesty's Government whether they would advocate the appointment of an International Commission for the protection of those Mahomedans who wish to return to or to retain their lands previously situated in the Turkish Empire but now occupied by the Balkan Allies, and for the obtaining of compensation for those refugees who have left their lands but who have retained their title-deeds.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, last February I had a Question down which bore upon the one now appearing on the Notice Paper, but at the request of the Government I did not put it, because the Government represented that it would not be in the public interest that I should do so. I should not have put this Question down for to-day had it not been for the fact that a memorial has been circulated, of which I have no doubt your Lordships have received a copy, inviting the Government to depart from the line of policy which they had arrived at in concert with the other Great Powers of Europe. I am one of those who share the general admiration of Sir Edward Grey in his management of this most difficult and complicated business which now agitates Europe, and I should be the last to desire to add any embarrassment to the Government at such a time. The memorial to which I have alluded, however, contains many misleading statements. I do not wish for a moment to enter into a discussion upon the memorial; but sub-clause (6), for instance, speaks of the "just aspirations of the existing Balkan States." I imagine it is the just aspirations of Albania which influenced the Great Powers in arriving at this determined policy. In the case of Albania you have really the oldest State in all the populations of the Balkans—a people of one language and of one history who, despite religious differences, are united as a nation; and if there is any criticism to be levelled at Sir Edward Grey and the Great Powers in the matter it is that they have restricted the boundaries Of Albania too greatly. The towns of Ipek, Prizrend, Djakova, and other places which are distinctly Albanian in character have been put under Servia. For the sake of peace in the Balkan States it is most essential to have a strong Albania, and to leave considerable portions of the Albanian population outside this new State may not lead to contentment. Further, a strong Albania is essential; otherwise there are certainly two Powers in Europe who are directly interested in the affairs of Albania, and unless you have a country able to be self-supporting and which has districts other than mere wild mountain tracts it will be difficult to prevent intrigues being carried on. I think the Great Powers might wisely have extended the frontiers of the new Albanian State. However that may be, it is much better to have even a weak Albania than no Albania at all. Therefore I trust that nothing will be done to deter the Great Powers from carrying out their pronounced policy. There are great risks and most anxious complications, but I imagine that any departure from the avowed policy of the Great Powers would be attended with infinitely greater anxiety than insistence on carrying out the policy which they announced. In saying this one must recognise the great forbearance shown by the Russian Empire in all these difficult negotiations, and the same may be said of Austria. They- have been agreed upon this one policy. It is my anxiety to see this policy carried through, and thereby, as I believe, the peace of Europe maintained, now and in the future.


My Lords, I am afraid that I must with all courtesy decline to answer either of the Questions of the noble Lord. I do not think the House will need many words from me to convince them that this is no moment at all for this House—or, if I may say so, the other House either, in spite of the round-robins referred to—to discuss such points as he has raised, as, for example, whether it is better to have a weak Albania than no Albania at all. It is admitted that the knot we have to unravel and disentangle is one of the most perplexing that ever confronted diplomatists, and it is impossible, in answer to a Question upon one particular and specific point, to state the view of the Government on what must be a large arrangement. With that in view I cannot help hoping that the House will think the Government are perfectly wise in asking to be excused from saying what particular steps they are taking, in conjunction with the other Powers, to secure the future autonomy of Albania. The stage at which the discussion has arrived is, I may tell the noble Lord frankly, not a stage at which a point of this kind can be effectively discussed with one another—not to-day. There are other issues, well known to noble Lords, which must engage the attention of the Powers. In that state of things he asks us, in isolation, to say what steps we are going to take to secure the object which the Powers have in view of constituting a satisfactory and prudently delimited Albania. I submit that it is entirely inexpedient for us to give an answer to a question of that kind; and I do not think anything would have been lost if the noble Lord had not raised the point.


My Lords, after the appeal of the noble Viscount opposite I shall refrain from discussing this question myself, although it happens to be one in which I take a personal interest. At the same time I fail to see why we or anybody else should be precluded from pointing out the absurdities contained in the memorial referred to by my noble friend. I will, however, resist upon this occasion the inclination which I feel to expose these absurdities, and will keep silent on the subject. But when the noble Viscount says the moment is inopportune to discuss this question, I should like to ask when we are going to have an opportunity of saying anything on the subject at all. As far as I am aware the House is about to adjourn and not meet again for six weeks. I have shown my good will in the matter by meeting the noble Viscount's wishes, but what I contend is that one does not get an opportunity in this House of expressing one's views at all at any time.


My Lords, I merely rise to make one small correction in what fell from the noble Lord who has just sat down. He stated that in his belief there would be no opportunity of discussing any question of foreign affairs for a period of six weeks. I am afraid I cannot venture to hold out either to him or to noble Lords generally the prospect of so long an abstention from business as that which he seemed to consider likely.


My Lords, I am quite sure the noble Marquess and the noble Viscount will take my assurance that' nothing is further from our thoughts on this side of the House than to utter a single word which may embarrass His Majesty's Government at 'the present time. We quite recognise the extreme difficulty under which His Majesty's Government must speak at such a moment I upon foreign affairs, and the great delicacy of the situation with which they have to deal. I noticed just a note of complaint in the speech of the noble Viscount. I do not think that that complaint was deserved. My noble friend did not desire in any way to interfere with the foreign policy of His Majesty's Government; neither do any of us. All we desire to say is to be said in one sentence—that in a matter of this international importance and at such a moment any step which His Majesty's Government think it right to take will receive our cordial support and assistance. That is all we have to say.


My next Question is to ask His Majesty's Government whether they would advocate the appointment of an International Commission for the protection of those Mahomedans who wish to return to or to retain their lands previously situated in the Turkish Empire but now occupied by the Balkan Allies, and for the obtaining of compensation for those refugees who have left their lands but who have retained their title-deeds. After the intimation of the noble Viscount that he will be unable to give me an answer, it is rather useless for me to enlarge on this question, but I cannot see why some consideration should not be given to this eminently fair proposal. We know what horrors have been perpetrated and possibly are still going on, and I should have thought that in these days of modern civilisation the most satisfactory way of putting an end to the present state of affairs would be by the appointment of an International Commission. I therefore ask the noble Viscount not to give a blank refusal, but to consider favourably the question of an International Commission, which I believe would give confidence to Mahomedans both in this country and throughout the world.


I have no intention whatever of expressing any opinion upon the actual proposals indicated in the Question. They may or may not embody a desirable policy, but for us now in isolation, without consultation—free and copious —with the other Powers, to adopt—


I ask you to consult with them.


That is not the point of the Question.


It is the point.


Can the noble Lord dream that we should not be constantly thinking of a question of this kind and taking any opportunity which may offer to ascertain what policy, in connection with these Mahomedans, would be most likely to secure the effective consent and approval of other Powers who are even more interested than we are?