§ *EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON rose to call attention to the position of affairs in Persia and in Tibet, to ask for information, and to move for Papers. The noble Earl said: My Lords, it is for the sake of convenience that I have combined the two subjects of Persia and Tibet in a single Motion, in order to avoid taking up the time of your Lordships by separate debates on two occasions. Nevertheless, the two subjects have a certain geographical connection because they are different aspects of the policy of Great Britain in Asia, and it was as such, as the noble Viscount opposite will recall, that they both figured in the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1997. We have, I think, good reason for calling the attention of your Lordships' House to these two subjects this afternoon. It is now more than six months since we last had anything like a detailed discussion upon the subject of Persia, and a much longer time has elapsed since we had any discussion at all on the question of Tibet. I feel, therefore, that even at the fag-end of the session, when not many people seem to take an interest in the matter, we on this side of the House are justified in making some remarks and putting some questions on these two, subjects; and equally on his side I am confident that the noble Viscount will not resent the opportunity of giving further information on some of these matters.
§ First as regards Persia. On more than one occasion when I have spoken in this House upon the matter I have been accused of painting a somewhat sombre and gloomy picture of the condition of affairs in that country, and I have been rebuked by the noble Marquess the Leader of the House and by the noble 1407 Viscount opposite for my unduly pessimistic views. Well, none of us wishes to be a Cassandra, yet I am bound to say that nothing I have said in my gloomiest moments in this House about the condition of Persia, notably of Southern Persia, in recent times in any degree approaches the revelations that are made to us in the Blue-book which was placed in the hands of both Houses of Parliament a few weeks ago, and which I have spent a melancholy Sunday by the sea-side in examining. The picture given in this Blue-book is the picture—I speak more especially of Southern Persia—of a country in the throes of dissolution; of a country given up to rapine, brigandage, disorder; a country where trade is almost, if not entirely, at a standstill, where roving bands wander about doing as they please, where British officers are fired at and robbed, and in one particularly unfortunate case an officer was killed; a country where the central Government is impotent and the local government is ignored. In fact, the picture is one of anarchy stretching almost the whole way from the Karun River on the west to the borders of Baluchistan on the east.
§ The other day I came across a description of this unhappy country given by a man who knows it well. He said Persia at the present moment is a country minus a King—true, because he is only a boy; minus a Regent, because the Regent has been travelling about for some time in Europe; minus a Parliament, because the Parliament has been abolished; minus a Government, because no Government can be said to exist; with no army but the robber bands to whom I have been referring, and with no money except that which she can extract from Great Britain and Russia. I believe that to be a true description of the present position of affairs in Central and Southern Persia. At any rate it was the position up to the date of the last Paper in the Blue-book—namely, the middle of February of the present year. Whether there has been any change or relief in the circumstances since then I do not accurately know, but I believe, from such information as I have, that there has been no substantial change, and if there has been any change at all it has been in the main due to the exhaustion ensuing upon a long period of anarchical violence and in part to the inevitable suspension of hostilities when the hot weather in those countries comes.1408
§ In reading this Blue-book and in surveying this picture we cannot fail to be struck by the fact that it is in the main in Southern Persia—the part of the country in which British interests predominate—that this pitiable condition of affairs exists. There all the worst cases of outrage and pillage and robbery occur. There it is that trade is practically at a standstill. I might quote many passages in the Blue-book indicating the complete collapse of commercial activity, but I can perhaps best bring it before your Lordships by giving you a single illustration. Let me tell you what happens if a case of tea requires to go from the plantations in India to Ispahan. Whereas in the old days it went from Calcutta or Bombay across the Indian Ocean and through the Persian Gulf to Bushire, and then by caravan to Ispahan, that case of tea now, owing to the conditions which I am describing, has to go all the way across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal, up the Mediterranean, through the Dardanelles, up the Black Sea, to Batoum and Baku, and then after covering a circuitous route of many thousands of miles it makes its way down to Ispahan. That is a deplorable state of affairs.
In the North of Persia—I must discriminate between the two for reasons which you will see in a few moments—the condition is very different. I do not say that there is no insecurity there—that would not be true—but life and property in the northern parts of Persia are relatively safe, and the reason for this is known to every one of us in this Chamber. It is owing to the presence of an overwhelming force of Russian troops in that part of the country. We have been told many times during our debates of the last two years that these Russian troops would presently be reduced, if not withdrawn, and I must recall the attention of the noble Viscount to one passage in particular which occurred in a debate in this House in December 1911, when I had challenged him upon the point. The noble Viscount produced a great impression by reading out a declaration to this effect—
The Russian Government assures us categorically, and desires to place on record, that such military measures as it has taken in Persian territory are of a purely provisional nature, and it has no intention whatever of infringing the principles of the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907 as to Persia. That being of the first authenticity and authority is a. very important assurance, and justifies us, under all the circumstances, in framing our policy on the assumption that that was theirs.
That assurance was read out to us on December 7, 1911. At that time the number of Russian troops in the North of Persia was 3,000; at the present moment, according to the information given us the other day in the House of Commons, the number is 17.500. The Blue-book mentions in one place that not a single Russian soldier has been withdrawn during the past year, and it you will look at page 284 you will see that Sir Edward Grey, who was obviously and naturally disturbed at this condition of affairs, on January 10 of the present year politely inquired of the Russian Government whether they could not see their way to withdraw some of these garrisons. The reply is contained on page 293 of the Blue-book, and is to this effect—
The Russian Government sincerely desire the recall of their troops, but as the latter in existing conditions offer the sole guarantee for security of Russian subjects and trade, they cannot at present diminish their numbers nor can they fix a date for their withdrawal, which must depend on the re-establishment of order.
More than that, in another part of the Blue-book you will find Russia a short time ago seriously contemplating taking over the administration of Northern Ajerbaijan, the Persian province on the North-west; and elsewhere we read that the Persian Cossacks, who, as your Lordships know, are a body of Persian troops officered by Russians and almost the sole stable and reliable military force in the northern parts of the country, have been increased—or are about to be increased; I do not know whether it has yet been done—from 1,800 to 4,300 men.
§ I can well believe that the presence of this great Russian force in Northern Persia is a guarantee of security, and I can also believe that it may not be unwelcome to the Persian Government or at any rate to some of the Persian Governors in those parts: but the points which I venture to submit to His Majesty's Government are these. Are not these great numbers that I have named out of all proportion to the requirements of law and order in the northern parts of Persia? Can we be quite sure that their presence there is in strict accordance with the spirit of the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907? And still more, is it not the case that a military occupation of this description is quite inconsistent with the pretence of continued Persian independence? As long as a country is under a military occupation of that sort, surely to talk of it as having 1410 any governing independence is out of the question. Indeed, you will find at one place in the Blue-book—page 271—that M. Sazonoff, the Russian Minister, confesses as much, because he there states that "no Government could be said to exist"—no Persian Government, of course, he meant "at Teheran." I have narrated these facts, for facts they are, with the barest comment upon them.
§ But, my Lords, this is the country and these are the people whom His Majesty's Government set out in the year 1907, when they made their Agreement with Russia, to resuscitate and safeguard and preserve ! Sir years ago the Persian nation, the Persian people, had a Government, had a Parliament, had a national existence of a sort. Now it has none. I confess I think the contrast between this picture and that must cause grave qualms in the breasts of those who were responsible, not merely for the Agreement to which I refer six years ago, but for the glowing anticipations that were based upon it. As co-signatories of that Convention I venture to say that we in England cannot wash our hands of all responsibility for what is going on in the North. We cannot witness without some apprehension this continued military occupation of a country whose integrity and independence we are always proclaiming; and I trust I may without offence invite from His Majesty's Government some expression of opinion on their part, if possible some intimation of their intention to pursue their efforts with a view of relaxing the conditions in Northern Persia to which I refer.
§ If an example were required in the matter, it has already been set by ourselves in the withdrawal of our troops from the southern part of the country. Your Lordships will remember that there were about 500 Indian Cavalry, belonging to the Central India Horse, at Shiraz and Ispahan. Why they were sent there no one in this House knows, and no Minister has ever been able to explain. We were told that they were there as a Consular guard, although why 500 men, still more 500 Indian Cavalry, should be required to guard the Consuls in their Consulates no one knows. I have always myself believed—and in this I have no doubt I am correct—that these Indian Cavalry were the illogical and unhappy residuum of a much larger policy which was at one time contemplated 1411 of policing the trade routes of the country and perhaps restoring some measure of order, but that His Majesty's Government at the last moment shrank from the bigger policy and had recourse to this foolish and futile compromise. Anyhow, everybody now admits that the despatch of these troops was a very grave mistake. At Ispahan and Shims they were cooped up inside those towns. When they went out they and their officers were fired at and insulted and robbed, and, as I have said, in one case an officer was killed. Their presence there was a perpetual offence to the Persians, and, what is probably from our point of view more serious, a daily blow to British prestige. I am not usually, as the noble Viscount knows, a very warm advocate of evacuation, but I. must confess that I was never better pleased than when His Majesty's Government took these troops away from Southern 'Persia. It is almost the only act in their 'Persian policy for which I give them, for what it may be worth, my entirely unreserved congratulation and applause.
I spoke about the murder of a British officer, Captain Eckford. May I say a word or two on that point? This wretched event occurred in December, 1912. A British party, officers and men, was moving out into the open country to the south of Shiraz when it was fired upon and attacked by a tribal band. One of the officers was hit by a bullet and killed. This was a very lamentable occurrence, though, of course, it was just the thing you would expect to happen in an Eastern country where the conditions were what I have described. If the bullet, instead of striking him, had struck a native officer I do not suppose we should have heard very much about it. Indeed, if you look in the Bluebook you will find that the native orderly of one of the English officers, Lieutenant Bullock, was so killed, but little attention had been called, at any rate in this country, to that matter. But the fact that it was a British officer, of course, differentiated the case, and His Majesty's Government from the start took a very serious view of the matter. If you look at the Blue-book, page 235, you will find that Sir Edward Grey spoke of it in the strongest possible terms. He telegraphed as follows, under date December 12, 1912, to Sir Walter Townley—
The murder of a British officer in the circumstances stated constitutes a situation which His
Majesty's Government cannot pass over. They must request the Persian Government to state without delay what reparation they are in a position to accord, and the reparation must include among other conditions the severe punishment of the tribesmen. If the Persian Government are not in a position to afford themselves the needful reparation, His Majesty's Government will have to consider what steps they themselves should take for that purpose.
And a little later you find that the Minister in Persia, Sir Walter Townley, expressed himself in even stronger terms as to the nature of the punishment that ought to be inflicted, even going so far as to say that if it was not done he advised that a British expedition should be prepared to restore order, and, if necessary, punish offenders on the Shiraz-Bushire road.
§ Now, my Lords, what has passed since December, 1912, in this connection? Seven months have passed. Nothing else has passed at all. First there was to be a punitive expendition organised by the local Governor-General, which was to start out and capture the offenders. These persons were to be seized and justice was to be done to them within a month. Then the condition of the season was pleaded as an excuse, and two or three months' delay was asked. Then we were told that the expedition must be postponed until the autumn. I think he would be a very sanguine man who thinks that the expedition will ever take place at all, or, if it does, that it will be attended with any satisfactory results. Here, again, the facts alone, without comment upon them, are enough to present a most humiliating picture of the condition of affairs.
May I say at once that I am not for a military expedition. I am unreservedly and unhesitatingly against it. I agree on the whole with the arguments which were used at a later date in his reply to the Minister by Sir Edward Grey, and which you will find at page 291 of the Blue-book, dated January 11, 1913. I do not know that I attach as much importance as Sir Edward Grey did to the probable cost of an expedition or to the Losses that it might entail, but on the whole I am inclined to agree with him in thinking that an expedition would have bean a very lengthy operation. It would be difficult to put any limit to the duties that might be imposed upon it, and it might have eventuated, would probably have eventuated, in something like a military occupation
of Southern Persia. For these reasons I think that the Government were right in not having a military expedition of their own, though I notice in his last Despatch, dated February 15, that he does not altogether forego the possibility of having so to act, because he says—
If the present state of anarchy is allowed to continue matters will go from bad to worse, and it will become impossible for His Majesty's Government to resist the despatch of an important military expedition to Southern Persia, with all its possible consequences.
I mention the matter of the murder of Captain Eckford, not, as I say, to advocate independent military action by ourselves, but to try and bring home to your Lordships, in the first place, the utter collapse of executive authority in Southern Persia which it implies, and, secondly, the terrible blow which must inevitably, if this outrage remains unpunished, be inflicted upon our prestige. It is really not surprising that in one place in the Blue-book you find that a German subject, who was travelling up from the coast and was held up, was told by one of the tribal chiefs that it was lucky that he was not an Englishman, the inference, I assume, being that if he had been an Englishman he would have got something infinitely worse. Further, I refer to this case in order to point out to your Lordships the necessity, to which I am corning hack presently, that if we are not to undertake the preservation of law and order in that country ourselves, it is essential that we should think out and adopt there a policy which will do something to prevent the recurrence of these tragedies by removing their causes. For the moment I will only ask the noble Viscount, when he replies, to be good enough to tell us whether he has any further information on the subject of this tragedy, and whether, so far as he knows, there is any prospect of a punitive expedition being sent or of reparation being exacted.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
No. I was speaking for the moment of the Persian Government.
I come next to a question closely connected with the matter I have been discussing, the Swedish gendarmerie in Southern Persia. This is a body of Persian recruits under Swedish officers who have been enlisted to attempt the 1414 preservation of something like order in the neighbourhood of Shiraz, and you can scarcely read ten pages of the Bluebook without seeing the part this Swedish gendarmerie is playing. Obviously and deservedly they have excited the greatest interest and received the warmest support from His Majesty's Government. From all I hear, the Swedish officers are brave and resourceful men. Although when they came they were ignorant of Oriental countries and customs, they have done their best. They have been honest and active in a country where, as we know, honesty and activity are at a discount. They have had to meet many obstacles both at headquarters and in the districts in which they serve. They have had great difficulty in getting good recruits, and I may mention one little incident which throws a flood of light on the situation. The, recruits that they engaged at Bushire to go up to Shiraz had to be disbanded because it was found that they had only entered the force with the special object of stealing the rifles on the way up to their destination. It is not clear from the Blue-book how far this force has been successful. I am not very sanguine about it myself, and perhaps my chief cause of apprehension arises from this, that I know that the engagements of these Swedish officers terminate in three years from the commencement of their contract, and I cannot, imagine anything more regrettable than that at. that time, whenever it comes, these men, just at the moment when they have acquired experience and are used to their work, disgusted as most of them probably will be with the futility of their operations, 5110111(1 resign and leave the country. I am fearful that that will happen. I am glad that His Majesty's Government are supporting them in the interval, and not merely supporting them but, as I shall show in a moment, are actually the paymasters of the force. We are paying them from day to day and month to month; we are running this Persian gendarmerie and their Swedish officers.
My point is rather a different one. It is this. That no gendarmerie, with Swedish officers or otherwise, can permanently secure the tranquility or peace of the province of Fars. All that they can do at the best is to safeguard a few trade routes on which they may be posted; and I want with all my power to urge upon 1415 His Majesty's Government the recognition of the fact that what you want in Southern Persia is not a small and dubious body of gendarmerie but an armed force in the hands of the Persian Governor-General of Fars to control the country, to collect its revenue, to suppress disorder, to chastise these troublesome tribes. I am convinced that whether the Swedes succeed or fail —I hope myself they will succeed—you will have to recognise that: the question is too big a one for a force of a few hundreds or even thousands recruited in the manner that these men are recruited. When you have a Persian force—I mean, of course, a force of Persians, from whatever source it be recruited—they must be officered by Europeans. It is no good taking Persian officers for the purpose. The force must be officered by Europeans. Personally, I have no great feeling about it; so essential is order that it does not matter to me by whom it is secured. Let them be officers of any nationality you please; but one cannot help remembering all the while that a few hundred miles away in India is a reserve of officers trained to this precise work for a long time, used to dealing with Mahomedans, profoundly acquainted with Oriental habits, famous for their art of getting on with native troops—I speak of the British officers of the Indian Army. Sooner or later you will have to contemplate employing them. I am not making here any suggestion that will be startling or unfamiliar to his Majesty's Government, because the noble Viscount will remember that three years ago Sir Edward Grey contemplated the formation of a body in Southern Persia which was to be officered by British officers of the native Army in India. I hope, therefore, that His Majesty's Government will bear that in mind, because I cannot help thinking that there and 'there alone one aspect of the ultimate solution must lie.
I pass on from that to what is really a much more vital matter, and that is the policy of His Majesty's Government. And first about these payments. If His Majesty's Government have not been very successful as patrons and preservers of Persia, at any rate they have been very constant and very generous as paymasters. It is difficult from this Blue-book to discover exactly how much they have found. We are told in one place that in 1912 Russia advanced £125,000 in that year only to Persia, but we are not told 1416 what our figures are. We read in place after place of doles of £10,009 and £13,000. We heard in our earlier debates here of a loan of £400,000, half from Russia and half from ourselves. Then in the early part of this year there was talk of a special loan of £100,000, half from Great Britain and half from India, for the financing of the gendarmerie; and since then the Secretary of State in the other House has spoken about a new loan of £400,000, half to be found by Great Britain and half by Russia, one-half of the British moiety being produced by India. I am not sure what the sum total of all these payments is, and I hope that the noble Viscount will allow me to ask him whether he can give us any clear idea what is the total sum which Great Britain and India have advanced in the last few years, or if he cannot give it to-day perhaps he could lay the information later.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
The authority is contained in a statement made by Sir Edward Grey in the House of Commons in May, on the last occasion when there was a debate there; but I need not go to the House of Commons for the authority, because it is in the last Paper in the Blue-book, page 310, in the Foreign Office letter to the Treasury, dated February 15, which states the facts and figures have just mentioned. I want to be sure, not merely as to the sum total, but as to the security for payment. I know that the Treasurer-General in Persia, M.Mornard, says that the Persian revenues could meet the charges of a loan of as much as £5,000,000 or £6.000,000. We should welcome from His Majesty's Government any statement as to the sufficiency of the Persian revenues to stand these constant charges. One thing is quite clear from the figures that I have given—namely, that we are pouring money into Persia; we are practically financing the Persian Government in the south of that country; and if von read the Blue-book carefully you will actually find that British money, or British and Indian money, has been used for such purposes as these—to enable a Governor to start for his post, to pay the gendarmerie, to meet the arrears of pay of the civil and military officials, to conduct 1417 when there was the question of a punitive expedition to catch and punish the murderers of a British officer, whether we should not provide the money to pay for this punitive expedition—one of those monstrous paradoxes that one could only find in an Asiatic country.
There are two questions which must be considered about this policy of doles. In the first place, where is it going to stop? How long is it going on? How long will the Persian revenues be able to meet these charges? Sir Edward Grey, in one of his Despatches, says that the policy of his Government is one of unlimited patience. Granted. That may be wise; it may be necessary; but it is unquestionably one of unlimited payment also. We want to be quite clear whether there are to be any limits to these payments, and, if so, where they are to be drawn; and, secondly, whether we are not, after all, pouring money into a sieve, so that it is merely running out at the other end. Are these constant payments going to be effective for the purpose for which we are giving the money—the re-establishment of Persian authority in the South; or effective for the vindication of our own prestige? I can only say, speaking hesitatingly—because it is difficult to dogmatise about the matter—that I feel very doubtful about this policy of reiterated doles. It seems to me that Persia will go on sucking up your doles as long as you choose to provide them. It is a stop-gap policy, a stationary policy; and if we are to contemplate any solution of this inextricable tangle we ought to look further afield in our attempt to find some solution.
It is a very dangerous thing when one is not in the Government to put anything into the pool oneself, because one is contributing ideas very likely without a proper basis of knowledge and information. But the case I would like to put before your Lordships' House is this. What is the crux of this whole position in Persia? Surely it arises from the events of six years ago. In 1907 His Majesty's Government concluded an agreement with Russia, the Anglo-Russian Convention. Under that Convention the country was divided into three parts. Russia had more than one-half of the country; Great Britain had a sphere of about one-sixth; and the remaining one-third constituted what is called the neutral zone. Many of us in this House who doubted the character of the 1418 bargain that had been made drew attention to what we regarded as the absurd inequality—inequity, I might say—of this distribution, but the answer made to us was that His Majesty's Government, in reserving the British sphere, had been actuated solely, and not unreasonably, by strategical considerations, and that they did not wish to put into our sphere more than the Indian Army could protect. But, my Lords, valuable as was that British zone, per se, I think His Majesty's Ministers entirely forgot the political and commercial importance of the areas left in the neutral zone. We pointed out to them over and over again that it was in the neutral zone that British and Indian merchants had sunk their money and practised their trade and that it was in that zone that the British telegraph runs and that practically all our interests are concentred. Look at what has happened since. Six years have passed since you concluded that Agreement. In those six years we have heard nothing about the British sphere, but the neutral sphere has been steadily pushing its way to the front, until now you are in the position of ignoring, your own Agreement. You have been acting throughout, and you will go on acting and be compelled to act, as if the neutral sphere were a British sphere.
Take the evidence of this Blue-book. You find almost in the first pages the British Government threatening to punish a local khan in the neutral sphere. We have been sending Indian troops freely into the neutral sphere. It is the financial administration of the neutral sphere that we are now conducting, and it is gendarmerie in the neutral sphere which we are now paying. It is for railways there that we are now pressing, I am glad to say successfully pressing, at the present time. Therefore for the last two years His Majesty's Government have been successfully demonstrating the futility of their own arrangements concluded with Russia in 1907. The neutral sphere always has been, and is now, a diplomatic fiction. Lip service is paid to it from time to time by our people if we want to be civil to Russia. From time to time we are reminded of it by Russia if she wants to be stiff to us.
The plea that I venture to address to His Majesty's Government is this. I want them to recognise the facts of the case, and I do not think I have exaggerated them. I venture to say that we cannot go on 1419 perpetually acting as though the neutral sphere was and at the same time was not a British sphere. We cannot go on vindicating British rights within that sphere when it is convenient to us, and repudiating British responsibilities within it when that is convenient. I want His Majesty's Government to set their minds to this matter, and see if they cannot work out a policy based on a recognition of the fact that the conditions have changed, and that so long as the neutral sphere remains a neutral sphere we have no right to go on doling out British and Indian money as we are now doing. You may say, "All this is technically and theoretically true; but what does it mean in practice." I think it means that we ought to endeavour to support the authority of the Persian Government, not merely in one portion or corner of the neutral sphere, but over the whole of that sphere; that we ought, as I have said, to enable the Persian Government to raise a force which shall restore order and discharge the duties of government in that sphere; and that we ought—a point I am coming to in a moment—energetically to pursue the policy of building railways within the neutral sphere. I think, further, that we ought to recognise the fact that in 1907, when you concluded your Agreement with Russia, we made a mistake. I do not propose that you should take any action behind the back of Russia or otherwise than in co-operation with Russia. Russia has many times had occasion to be grateful to us for the support we have extended to her from time to time; and it. is only reasonable to say that it is consistent with the close friendship which now prevails between Russia and ourselves that she should assist us to place on a more stable footing our present position, illogical as I have shown it to be, in that part of Persia which is included in the neutral sphere.
Then, my Lords, one word upon the question of railways. I have said that His Majesty's Government were, rightly as I think, pursuing the policy of extending railways in the neutral zone. They have made a beginning in the matter. We learn from the Blue-book that a concession for a railway in the North from Julia to Tabriz was given in the early part of the year to the Russians, and a little later a concession was given for the survey of a. line from Khoramabad to Mohammerah in the South. It is not quite clear whether this 1420 option carries with it the right of construction after the surveys have been made. Presumably it does. I venture to ask a question on that point; and further, when the construction comes, whether it is to be carried out by the British syndicate or by the Persian Government, or by what other agency, if the matter has so far been discussed. Again, I do not quite see at present how this British railway is to be financed unless a guarantee is given either by the British Government or by the Indian Government, about both of which I am extremely doubtful. I dare say it is not unlikely that the Russian Government will find money for their railway in the North, but whether the English Government or the Government at Delhi will find money for the railway in the South seems to me extremely doubtful. I hope that His Majesty's Government will energetically pursue the construction of this railway, because its undertaking is one of the few hopeful symptoms in the dark night of Persian conditions that I have been describing.
There is a more important railway still in contemplation in Persia about which I must say a word. I speak of the Trans-Persian Railway and the Société d'Etudes. A year ago some of your Lordships may recall that we had a debate in this House upon the matter, and it then appeared that there was a financial combination composed of representatives of British, of Russian, and of French finance which was engaged in preliminary surveys and the attempt to obtain concessions from the Persian Government for a great Trans-Persian railway which was to run from Baku in Russian territory right away down to the Indian Ocean in the direction of India. There were some of us in this House at the time who entertained the strongest possible objection—I was one of them—to the principle of such a railway, which we thought inconsistent with the security of India. I am not going to repeat those objections this afternoon. I merely mention, in passing, that there is a very strong body of opinion who hold those views. In reply to my remarks on that occasion, both the noble Viscount and the noble Marquess the Leader of the House said that all His Majesty's Government had done was to agree to an examination of the details of it, but no pledge of any sort had been given as to any part of the line; and in the House of Commons 1421 Sir Edward Grey promised that the report of the Sociéte d'Etudes should be laid, and that no action should be taken until Parliament had been consulted. No official encouragement was given to it.
What has happened in the interim? The Société d'Etudes has been pursuing its labours in Persia, and on the Indian side we have heard of surveys being conducted by our engineers in British Baluchistan. On the other hand, in the Blue-book you find numerous indications that Russia is particularly interested in this railway, especially the Russian portion of it, and that she has been throughout pressing the British Government to adopt a more committal attitude than that of a year ago. This is a matter of supreme importance, and reluctant as I am to weary your Lordships with this long disquisition, I am covering a wide area and striving to do it concisely and with some degree of proportion. The Blue-book shows us that at Balmoral last year M. Sazonoff, the Russian Foreign Minister, in his interview with Sir Edward Grey, pressed upon him to agree to the construction of this Russian section of the line from the Caucasus to Teheran, and he asked for the diplomatic support of our representative at Teheran. That is at page 172; and at page 175 you will find Sir Edward Grey's instructions both to our Ambassador at St. Petersburg and to our Minister at Teheran. He says that His Majesty's Government will agree to give their support to the construction of the Russian section of the line on the condition only that the line shall not go beyond the Russian sphere without British consent at a later date.
A little later on the situation still further develops, and if you look at page 225 you will find there a telegram from our Ambassador at St. Petersburg to Sir Edward Grey—Russian Government understand that Société d'Etudes have already chosen representatives to proceed shortly to Teheran in order to negotiate with Persian Government, with support of the two legations, for securing the option to construct Trans-Persian railway and permission to begin preliminary works in return for arranging a large loan for Persia.In his reply to this communication, Sir Edward Grey apparently, though not very clearly, acquiesces in these arrangements. If I have read this history rightly, it appears to me that the reserve upon which the noble Marquess and the noble 1422 Viscount laid so much stress a year ago has now given way to a very active support; that we are already definitely committed to the construction of the Russian section of the line, and this without any of that reference to Parliament which was promised by Sir Edward Grey a year ago; and, turther, that we are tentatively committed to the participation in the grant of a large loan, £5,000,000 or £6,000,000, to Persia in connection with the deliberations of the Société d'Etudes and the construction of this line. I confess I look upon this situation with considerable anxiety. It seems to me that His Majesty's Government have gone rather beyond their pledges to Parliament in this respect, and I apprehend that if I am right you may find it very difficult indeed to arrest your steps in the future. You will find it very difficult to avoid taking part in this loan. You will find yourselves in this position, that you will in all probability be financing, or in part financing, a Russian railway in Persia, and when the Russian railway is carried to a point where it conies to the end of the Russian sphere and impinges on ours, I can see the difficulty you will find, whatever may be your views, in arresting its further progress. Thus it seems to me that His Majesty's Government have committed themselves, if I am right, to a policy which some of us in this House would regard with very great apprehension if not with dismay, and I await with interest any explanations on the matter that the noble Viscount may be good enough to give me.
Now let me touch upon only one other railway matter which is rather off the field that I have been discussing, although I told the noble Viscount I should refer to it. It is connected with Persia because it touches the Persian Gulf — I mean the Baghdad railway. For a year, as we have seen in the papers, His Majesty's Government have been discussing with the Turkish Government the future arrangements about the continuation of the Baghdad railway south of Baghdad, and on May 29 last Sir Edward Grey made a statement in the House of Commons on the matter. He spoke about certain draft Agreements with the Turkish Government. The first question I would ask is, Have those draft Agreements been concluded? Is the Convention in force? The terms of this Agreement as explained by Sir Edward Grey were as follows, and the House must observe them rather closely. 1423 In the first place the terminus of the Baghdad line under this Agreement is to be at Busra. Those of your Lordships who are familiar with the circumstances of the case will he in entire agreement. I myself have always argued for Busra as against Koweit. Secondly, the line between Baghdad and Busra is to be constructed—but here I am left in doubt as to the agency. By whom will it be constructed? Will it be by the Baghdad Railway Company? If so, will it be under the same conditions as regards capital and kilometric guarantee as the rest of the Baghdad railway? Will British capital be invited to participate in it? The point is of the greatest importance, as your Lordships will see in a moment.
If this section of the railway is to be constructed by the Baghdad Railway Company, which is in the main a German company, then it would appear that Germany will be resuming the rights which she surrendered in 1911. For the surrender of those rights she received the compensation of a railway to Alexandretta, and the making of harbour works at Alexandretta. But if she is now to get the railway as well, it appears to me that she will have done a very good stroke of business for herself, though where British interests or compensation come in I am not so clear. I may be quite wrong about this, but the noble Viscount will correct me if I am. Then the compensation that Great Britain has to get is, as I understand, the representation of two directors on the Baghdad Railway Board. These gentlemen are to watch the operations of the company and see that they do not institute differential rates against us. They are persons who may be very useful for that purpose, but they will be in a very small minority. The Board will consist of between ten and twenty directors—rather nearer twenty than ten—and estimable as these gentlemen may be, I doubt very much whether their presence will provide the safeguard against the sort of danger that some of us contemplate. In return for this Great Britain is to agree to the increase of the Turkish Custom duties, which is no doubt a matter of great importance to the Turkish Government.
Now I pass on to that part of the Agreement which deals with the estuary of the Shat el Arab and the Gulf. The British interests in the Shat el Arab and the Tigris are to be provided for by 1424 the construction of a board or a committee in which British interests are to be secured, and of which there is to be a British chairman. I do not know whether the noble Viscount is in a position to give us any further information on that point. I would like to ask him, if I may, whether it is to be a Turco-British board, or whether further foreign elements are to be introduced, and also whether the Port of Busra will be under its administration? The next feature of the Agreement Sir Edward Grey stated was that we recognise the Turkish suzerainty over Koweit, and she recognises the autonomy of the Sheikh of Koweit—one of those peculiar arrangements that can only exist in the East—as well as the Treaty obligations into which he has entered. I think that is a very good solution, so far as it goes; and fin ther—a point which Sir Edward Grey did not mention—I believe some sort of agreement has been arrived at by which Turkey has abandoned or modified some of those rather troublesome claims of hers of authority and suzerainty in different parts of the Persian Gulf. I do not press the noble Viscount for information if he does not wish to give it. I merely ask him whether he is in a position to say that this is true. I await an answer to these questions before I would dare to pronounce a verdict on the whole. Subject to what I have said about Germany and the Baghdad railway, it seems to me to be a fair agreement. May I derive from this the plea that we may have some Papers on the matter? I conclude with a Motion for Papers. I wonder if we can have some more Papers about Persia, carrying the position on from February 15, and in any case may we have some Papers about the Agreement with the Turkish Government over the question of the Baghdad railway?
I have only one other question to deal with, and that is the subject of Tibet. I almost wish I had made Tibet the occasion for a separate discussion, but I think I can promise to be reasonably brief and concise, because what I have to say can be comprised in a very narrow compass. As regards Papers, the plea for Papers in the case of Tibet is stronger still. I think I am right in saying that we have had no Papers about Tibet since 1910—in other words, for three years we have had no official information of what has been going on. Your Lordships may be quite certain that I am not going to retread the paths of ancient 1425 history or revive ancient controversies about Tibet. I will only take up the matter in its most recent phase. Your Lordships will remember that a feature of the arrangements concluded by His Majesty's present Government, both with China and with Russia, over the subject of Tibet, involves the recognition of Chinese suzerainty over that country. I have no doubt that when the Government took that step they thought that Chinese suzerainty in the future would be the same vague and impalpable thing that it had been in the past. It is quite clear that they did not at all foresee the consequences of their act. That, I think, showed a want of prevision on their part. The Chinese, on the other hand, had very different ideas. Mere suzerainty did not interest them at all; they were bent on converting suzerainty into sovereignty, and they set about it in a very businesslike way. They despatched an expedition to Tibet which behaved with great rigour and severity. They compelled the Dalai Lama to flee the territory, and. have even carried their pretensions so far as to indulge in intrigues with the Indian border States of Sikkim, Bhutan, and Nepal. For a time His Majesty's Government appear to have treated those proceedings with equanimity. I know the noble Viscount is always very sensitive on the subject of interfering with Tibet in any way at all, and I have no doubt that His Majesty's Government thought they would rather acquiesce than have further trouble with regard to Tibet.
The change did not come from them. It came from a very unexpected quarter. When the Revolution broke out in China, the Chinese troops in Lhassa, who were anti-Manchu, mutinied and killed their commander, and forced the local Amban to abdicate. Then came a period of unrest, during which the Dalai Lama, who had been our guest in India returned to the country and made an arrangement by which the troops were allowed to stay. Again the next step came from China. The Chinese Republic, in order to turn attention from the troubles with which it was pressed at home, seemed to think it politic to indulge in an attitude of ambition and aggression abroad, and accordingly they launched another expedition against Tibet with some vigour. Here, again, in the absence of Blue-books and official Papers am dependent on what has appeared in the Press, but we 1426 have had it stated with apparent authority and dates and full details in the Press that in August last year our Minister at Peking, Sir John Jordan, addressed a formal Note to the Chinese Government in which His Majesty's Government are said to have stated that they could not acquiesce in the definite incorporation of Tibet in China, or the further despatch of a punitive expedition, or the continued use of India as a highway to Tibet. The recognition of the Chinese Republic by His Majesty's Government must be withheld until they received satisfaction on these points, and until some new Agreement had been arrived at. I could give the noble Viscount the reference, if he desires. To that Note the Chinese Government—this information, again, comes from Peking—are alleged to have replied in December, 1912, and the terms of their reply are said to have been these: that they defended their action and declined to see that there was any occasion for a new Agreement. I think the noble Viscount Neill agree, if these communications have passed, that we may reasonably ask to see these documents and to he made acquainted with what has been passing on this very important matter.
What is the present position at Lhassa? I really would like sonic information upon the point. Is the Dalai Lama in power at Lhassa? Is he back in the Potala? Is the Chinese Resident there? Are there any Chinese soldiers in the place? Is Chinese sovereignty existing in any form? Is there to be a discussion between Chinese and British representatives upon the matter? and is there to be a new Agreement? I think those are fair questions to ask.
There is one more act, and one more act alone, in the drama about which I want to ask a word. It may be remembered that in the course of the Chinese Revolution Mongolia declared its independence of China, and the Russians took advantage of this movement to make a Treaty with Mongolia and to declare a protectorate over her. The terms of that protectorate are contained in a Paper which has been presented to Parliament. I have no idea whether any communication has been made to His Majesty's Government on the matter, whether they acquiesced in or accepted the arrangement, or what part they took. But, anyhow, there it is, and we may look upon Mongolia as having been practically lopped off from China, and as having passed under the protection Of Russia.
1427 Now comes the point to which I would respectfully ask the attention of the noble Viscount. It is alleged that simultaneously with these proceedings between Russia and Mongolia negotiations have been going on between Tibet and Mongolia. which are said to have culminated in a Treaty, dated January, 1913, between the two countries. The agent who was instrumental in negotiating this Treaty is said to have been the well-known Dordjieff, who was the stormy petrel of Tibet in politics, as we all remember, some years ago. Dordjieff has been to St. Petersburg and has addressed a public meeting there on the subject of Russian interest in, and Russian connections with, Tibet; and he has also visited the Russian Foreign Office. The questions which I desire to address to the noble Viscount arise out of a statement which, if true—and for all I know it may be quite untrue—is a rather serious one, contained in the well-known Russian paper, the Novoe Vremya. I have not got the actual date of it, but the statement runs—Tibet has always looked upon Russia as a powerful friend. The spiritual connection between Russia and Tibet has always been strong. The Russo-Mongolian Treaty of November 4, 1912, formed a practical basis for a rapprochement between Russia and Tibet, and the latter country in its turn concluded a treaty with Mongolia on January 11—That is the treaty I alluded to—Russia has thus already become connected with Tibet through Mongolia. With the help of Dordjieff, the harmony of Anglo-Russian interests in Tibet may be established. Russia must achieve that. Not only our Buryats, but the whole of Mongolia is spiritually connected with Tibet. United by religion and customs, and now by an official Treaty as well, Mongolia and Tibet have become one. In future Russia may extend her industrial interest to Tibet. Our bank at Urga could operate in Tibet as well; Tibet will willingly take our credit. notes. There is no doubt that next to the Mongolian question, which our diplomacy has not yet settled, the course of events in the Far East gives prominence to the question of Tibet, which is closely connected with the former question.In that statement, which may be true or entirely untrue, there is a definite assertion that a Treaty was concluded between Tibet and Mongolia, and, further, the inference is drawn from it that, by virtue of this Treaty, Russia will be drawn to extend her influence over Tibet. I say, frankly, I do not believe it. I cannot believe that Russia would be a party to any arrangement of that description, which would be so inconsistent with the terms to which she has set her hand with regard to Tibet in the 1428 Anglo-Russian Convention. My reason for putting the question and reading the extract is to enable the noble Viscount, if he can do so, to deny what I hope to be an entire untruth.
Now, I have covered a very wide area, and I apologise to your Lordships for the length of time it has taken me to do so. You may be quite certain that in return I shall spare you the penalty of a peroration. My object in these remarks has been to place before your Lordships the facts of the case involving British relations of the most important character over a large portion of the Asiatic continent; secondly, to invite information and an expression of opinion on many of these points from His Majesty's Government; and, thirdly, to ask them, over all this great area, and more particularly with regard to Persia, to recognise facts as they are, and, instead of expecting the facts to be modified to suit their policy, to adjust their policy so as to meet the unquestionable facts of the case. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty for Papers relating to Affairs in Persia and in Tibet.— (Earl Curzon of Kadleston.)
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (VISCOUNT MORLEY)
My Lords, the noble Earl has undoubtedly taken a very wide sweep with his net. One consequence of that is that I am afraid the multitude of topics has been so large that my answers cannot pretend to be anything like exhaustive, and the noble Earl will not, perhaps, expect them to be so. I should like to begin with a word upon the Anglo-Russian Convention. On previous occasions the noble Earl has opposed that Convention, or, at all events, criticised it very severely. Although he insists that the state of things is worse since the Convention, the noble Earl, as he has said before, does not at all mean to intimate that it is in consequence of the Convention. I do not know whether he still holds that view or not, but he talks about hearing the facts and facing the facts. I think that a careful examination of the state of things in Persia before the Convention will show that it is not, bad as it is, materially worse than it was before that Convention and I will say this, further, that while some critics here con- 1429 demn the Convention on the ground that it was not regardful enough of British interests, a similar school in Russia maintains that it has been unfair to Russian interests and disadvantageous to the power and influence of Russia. You will always find remarks of that kind made. There is also a school in England, with which the noble Earl certainly has no affinity, who insist that the right way of dealing with Persia is to leave it alone—that Russian influence and British influence alike should vanish bag and baggage, and that Persia should be left to work out her own constitutional and social development by her own devices. Nobody who has given any responsible attention to the materials that there are in Persia—the social conditions for building a great fabric of Persian freedom and self-government—nobody who has any practical acquaintance with the matter can suppose that such a thing is possible. If any member of that school, of which I want to speak without disrespect, thinks that the materials and conditions that exist in Persia are not unfit to build this fabric upon, I would advise him to turn to Mr. Shuster's book called "The Strangling of Persia," and he will find there evidence enough of the insuperable difficulties, as we think, that any statesmen or rulers will have to meet in building up a constitutional fabric under those conditions.
I will come in a moment or two to the noble Earl's remedial suggestions, but before coming to them and before saying a word or two about his catalogue of the evil doings in Persia at this moment, I would ask the noble Earl and your Lordships to consider what is the policy which I venture to say is as much the policy of noble Lords opposite as it is of His Majesty's present Government. I will venture to sketch what I call the common policy, which I do not believe any Government present or to come would depart from, in seven propositions, enumerating what I conceive to be the conditions and terms of any British policy in Persia. First, maintaining the spirit and the letter of the Anglo-Russian Convention; second, maintaining the independence of Persia and the avoidance of partition or any approach to partition, economical, administrative, geographical, political; third, while faithful to the stability of our present Alliance and to our European engagements we are faithful also in an equal degree to the good of 1430 Persia; fourth, to uphold some form of constitutional Government; fifth, to lose no chance of easing the distracted situation in which the Persian Government now is, by counsel, attention, and such assistance as we may from time to time consider it expedient to give; sixth, to enable Persia by money or otherwise to restore order on the southern roads to which the noble Earl has naturally called serious attention; seventh—I think this is the language of the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne—to avoid entangling ourselves in a policy of adventure in Southern Persia. I am inclined to add an eighth proposition—namely, that we must beware of being forced into a position which would offend the opinion and the sentiment of Mahomedans in India. The noble Earl will need no argumentation upon that point. At this moment there is among Mahomedans all over the world, not excepting India, a feeling of soreness at the ill-fate which is befalling Mahomedan communities, and it might eventually become dangerous if that feeling in India were still farther strengthened and made more alive by any transactions of an unfriendly kind, or which they might take as unfriendly, in the reconstitution of Persia, because, although no open sedition might probably occur, yet by unfriendly conduct in policy you would be silently diminishing the capital of good will and loyalty that now happily exists among Indian Mahomedans.
The noble Marquess put the case quite truly, I think, at the beginning of this year—I think a little more fairly, if I may say so, than the noble Earl. The noble Marquess said—In all Persian policy we are confronted by conflicting directions of thought and action and by different sets of considerations.There is the whole of the ease. If you look at Persia in one way the story told by the noble Earl may, of course, seem very disgraceful. But if you look at the other set of considerations you will find that the first set on which the noble Earl has so much dwelt is more than balanced by the conflicting set. I will go over as shortly as I can the items of the noble Earl's inquiry and, in some ways, attack. First of all he undoubtedly exaggerated the condition of trade in Persia. He said—I think he almost used these words—that trade had collapsed; I think he said it was dead. That, my Lords, is not the case.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
The words I used were that Persian authority had collapsed, and that in many parts of the country Persian trade was at a standstill. My words were quoted from the Blue-book.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
Very well—that Persian trade is at a standstill. It is a great mistake, according to information that we have, to suppose that there is not at this moment a very considerable volume of trade going on with Persia. In the March quarter of this year the report to us was that the condition of the road north of Shiraz was, generally speaking, satisfactory; robberies were reported, but they were few in number and unimportant in substance. The May report from Shiraz is to this effect: His Majesty's Consul reports that there have been no robberies during that month on that road. And to-day from Shiraz we are told that for the first three months of this year—the Persian year beginning in March—the southern Customs receipts exceeded those of the same period in 1912 by nearly £10,000. That is not a very great amount, but it is a sign that trade is not at a standstill, as the noble Earl would have us believe. Then he contrasted the condition of the southern roads with the roads in that zone where there is a large Russian military force; and just as he painted in too dark colours the condition of the trade in our zone and in the neutral zone for British merchandise, so he has painted in too favourable colours the condition of things in the Russian zone, because order is by no means preserved, in spite of the presence of this great force, over the whole of Northern Persia.
Then the noble Earl referred to the despatch of the Central India Horse to Shiraz, and he shares the extreme satisfaction with which we heard that after an extremely trying period of service those troops had returned to India. The noble Earl asked why they were ever sent. I am not prepared to tell him in detail why they were sent. He must take it, I am afraid, that we considered it was due to the requirements of the day, and that the moment we were of opinion that the withdrawal was prudent this force returned to India. It may interest the House to take this further figure. There is a force at Bushire of some 500 of the 2nd Rajputs. They are the only British force now in Persia. The reason for that particular force is the disturbed state of Tangistan.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
A small part of the same force. But, speaking from recollection, I think that half the force that was there was moved on to Bushire.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
Now about the incident of the murder of Captain Eckford. It was deplorable, as one need not say, but it does not seem that it was a murder committed upon a British officer qua British officer. That does not in the least, of course, extenuate the guilt of it, but it is worth remembering as a political fact that it was not against a British officer as such that they were shooting. We must agree with the noble Earl that this does not make the demand for redress at all superfluous, and the Persian Government—the passages were read by the noble Earl from Sir Edward Grey's Despatch—were addressed on the subject at once, and they have committed themselves, so far as they can, to the discovers of the murderers and their summary punishment after discovery. This, my Lords, is worth remembering, that success depends upon the development of the force of gendarmerie under the Swedish officers, and I was glad to hear from the noble Earl that he approved of the conduct of the Government in recognising that it is more than doubtful whether we should have been nearer success if we had been in great haste to take the business out of the hands of the Persian Government. As the noble Earl approves of that, I do not think I need say more on that point. It is the fact—and I do not believe that the noble Earl has any material to contradict it—that the condition of Fars, the province we are concerned with, has not deteriorated, The information that we have is as follows. Colonel Hjalmarson, the able and competent Swedish commander, has sent two detachments of about 450 men each to Shiraz, and he has himself made a tour up from Bushire to Baghdad, and thence from Kermanshah to Teheran, and during this circuit—this is a reason for our being hopeful as to the utility of this force—he must have acquired 1433 a very considerable insight into the present requirements of the situation and a considerable grip over it. During the summer, I understand, we are not to expect any great manifestation on the part of Colonel Hjalmarson and his force, but as the autumn goes on it is expected that his work will be effective.
I should like to say here, upon the point of order and government in Persia—the noble Earl did not ask me anything upon that, but the House may be interested to know—that the Regent has seen the British Foreign Secretary in London and at St. Petersburg he saw M. Sazonoff. He afterwards expressed satisfaction with those interviews. He is now in Paris, and next month will proceed to Teheran, where on his arrival he will consult his Ministers upon a point which was mentioned by the noble Earl in a quotation—he will consult his Ministers as to the expediency and propriety of summoning the Mejliss. He thinks it will be premature—reasonably so—of him to form any decision as to the summoning of the Mejliss until he has consulted the Ministers who are there. May I add this, that he will find when he gets back to Teheran a Cabinet composed of more practical, clear-sighted, and clean-handed Ministers than have been in power before. So on that side things are not unpromising.
Then the noble Earl talked about troops and forces. What was his recommendation? Of course, we listened to it with great attention, but I declare I thought it a very remarkable suggestion which the noble Earl made. Two points struck me as remarkable. He began by commenting on the desirableness of maintaining our understanding in the Treaty regarding the independence of Persia. But now his suggestion is that we should send British officers out there. That is one of his cardinal remedies—that we should send British officers to take command of Persian forces. I am not sure whether he meant that we should send any military force of our own as well.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
Oh, no. I must apologise if I was not quite clear. My proposal was not remarkable at all. It was the proposal of His Majesty's Government made three years ago which I revived and repeated to them to-night. My case was this. As Persia cannot subsist 1434 as a Government unless she restores order, and as she cannot restore order without a military force in addition to gendarmerie, however well they may work, we should encourage her to create and maintain an armed force, and for that purpose European officers will be necessary. I drew attention to the fact that probably the most competent officers to be found anywhere for the purpose are the British officers of the Indian Army.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
It is quite true that three years ago we did take in view as a possibility the sending of officers from India to help the Persians, but further reflexion showed a considerable number of drawbacks to that. One is this: Where are you going to send them? First of all, it would weaken the sense of responsibility in the Persian Government, which you particularly desire to strengthen. There is another point, which I think the noble Earl overlooked. This military force, or force commanded by British officers, would have to operate not only in our own zone but in the neutral zone, and perhaps still further North. I suppose everybody agrees that our desire is to keep on good terms with the great Power whom I may call our partner in the government of Persia. Could they be expected to look with pleasure on our sending officers there any more than we should look with pleasure on their doing the same thing?
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
I did not contemplate anything of the sort. I never dreamt for a moment that British officers should be employed in the Russian sphere. It would be most unwise to do so. But the Russians at the present moment have a number of their own officers in command of Cossacks in the Russian sphere. We do not object to their doing that at all, and why should they object to the employment of British officers in the British sphere, or to British officers any more than Swedish officers in the neutral sphere?
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
I do not know whether there are Persian Cossacks with Russian officers in the neutral zone or not. I doubt it. But the proposal of the noble Earl is that we should send British officers into the neutral zone, and there are obvious objections to that, as I think the noble Earl will himself see.
1435 Then the noble Earl put a question to me as to the railroads. So far as the Mohammerah-Khoramabad concession is concerned, the Government have been approached by a British syndicate. We supported their application to the Persian Government, and they have got, as I think the noble Earl knows, an option for two years. They have despatched surveyors for a preliminary survey and other works will be proceeded with the next cool season. The noble Earl put two points to me. He asked, Who will construct this line after the surveys are completed, and who will find the money? I suppose, as it is the British syndicate that is executing the surveys, that it is they who will construct the line. That seems to follow naturally, and it is understood as a matter of fact that they will construct the line and find the money.
Then the noble Earl referred to the British and Russian Governments in connection with a much huger operation than the Mohammerah and Khoramabad line—namely, in connection with the line he described from Baku. The Russian Government are still discussing the question of this Trans-Persian railway- with us, and to put it in a sentence they are discussing it in a perfectly amicable spirit. But the noble Earl referred to India, and here is one point which I think I am free to mention. The Russians would like to go to Kerman with their line. To that from the Indian point of view there is a very strong objection of the kind which the noble Earl himself indicated. But we have now expressed our willingness to apply at Teheran for leave for the construction of a railway from the northwest to the south-east of Persia, that is from Baku, or from that neighbourhood, to Teheran and from Teheran to some point not yet fixed. At present there is no thought of, or at all events no settled desire for, a line beyond Teheran. What ultimate prolongation may take place is to be settled later on. The noble Earl did not ask about the condition of the neutral zone. I thought he might. There are proposals in the air for abolishing the neutral zone and leaving Russia and Great Britain conterminous in their spheres. All we can say upon that is that the two Governments, Russia and ourselves, are working in complete accord, and no change whatever of the status of the neutral zone is under discussion.
1436 On the subject of finance, the noble Earl spoke with gravity. He fell, if he will allow me to say so, into an error there. The two Governments have advanced £400,000 for general purposes, not earmarked for particular objects, but for salaries and the other ordinary expenses of the machinery of a working Government. Then in addition to that His Majesty's Government, including the Government of India, have advanced £100,000 earmarked for the gendarmerie in the province of Fars. This is where the noble Earl certainly fell into an error. He seems to think there is a second sum of £400,000. That, I am informed, is not in the least the case.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
No; the sum to which the noble Viscount is referring is, of course, the loan now in contemplation or already given, and I correctly described it. But I was alluding to an earlier loan mentioned in the debates a year ago as having already been given, which is quite distinct from this. This is not the first contribution that has been made.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
During the last two years there has been nothing beyond the old £400,000, and there is nothing in contemplation.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
No; it appears to be all the same £400,000, as I think the noble Earl will find if he looks at the Blue-book.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
There was £400,000 two years ago, and this is a second sum of £400,000. That is my point.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
Now I turn to Tibet. The Tibetan story is a very long one, and the noble Earl has told a portion of it. I need not go over the details again. Early in 1912 there was a definite forward movement of the Chinese followed by a stubborn resistance by Tibet. The Tibetans were not quite unanimous, but, speaking generally, Tibet resisted, and for a long time there was fighting every day and universal turmoil and disorder. Both the Chinese and the Tibetans made appeals to the Government of India to 1437 mediate. The Government of India, quite properly, rejected those appeals on the ground that we were pledged to neutrality. The Chinese proceeded further to advance into what was indisputably Tibetan territory, and the result of all this continued fighting, the failure of decisive success on either side, was a deadlock. But let me point out one very remarkable indication of the spirit of the Chinese. Actually on the 12th of April last year the President of the new Chinese Republic issued an order to his officers in Tibet saying that Tibetan matters come now within the sphere of Chinese internal administration, and that Tibet is to be regarded as on an equal footing with other provinces of China. This, of course, is boldly saying that Tibet was to be treated as a Chinese province.
A very vigorous protest was made at Peking against this, end it is pleasant to know that the Chinese Government on the 30th of last month revoked this rather preposterous demand and issued a proclamation to the generalissimo in the neighbourhood of Yunan that it has been agreed with the British Government to appoint negotiators for the settlement of Tibetan affairs and that all troops stationed along the frontiers must strictly adhere to their present; positions and not advance pending a definite decision. That so far is a complete withdrawal from what was a complete and rather preposterous advance. The noble Earl has told the House of the communication made by us to the Chinese Government on August 17, and that is in truth the charter. It expresses our views, that China is to have no active intervention in internal administration in Tibet. We demurred to the proceedings of the last two years on the part of the Chinese officers; we especially demurred to that order which has now been withdrawn. We did not dispute the old right of the Chinese to have an officer, an Amban, at Lhassa, with a very small escort, but we could not endure the presence of any large or unlimited number of troops. The House will be glad to know that there is going to be a conference under our auspices, so to say. The Chinese accept in principle those terms of. August 17 that I have just read to the House, but still there are many points open between them and the Tibetans, and our motive for coming forward is that the last thing we desire is to intervene in the internal affairs of Tibet. Our political interest in that quarter is 1438 confined to the maintenance of friendly relations with a neighbouring State, and peace and security along the Indian frontier from Cashmere to Burma. These are important interests, and we cannot consent that they should be endangered. In this conference China and Tibet will be, so to call them, the protagonists. Unless something arises we shall be the honest broker, but an honest broker who will keep his eye open with regard to those interests that I have just described to your Lordships. I want to be quite clear with regard to this. We shall not only be, as we are in the first instance, the honest broker, but it is to be a tripartite contract, and we shall be parties both to the negotiations as they proceed and to the convention which we hope will be the result of those negotiations. For a moment there is a small difficulty. The Chinese are raising a point as to the status of the delegates who are sent to this conference, but any difficulty of that kind will be got over. It may be interesting to add that the Russian Government have been fully apprised of our action and our intentions in all these transactions, and have received that information with entire goodwill and assent.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
The conference will be held at Simla, and it is hoped that it will meet in about three weeks. The noble Earl, not in the least unreasonably, has asked for Papers. It is quite true, as he said, that it is a long time since Tibetan Papers appeared, but the present moment, I think he will see, would not be an advantageous moment for the production of Papers. If they contained all that has happened during the last three years, it might cast a shadow upon the conference, and in any case it is clear that the transactions will not be complete until the conference has been held and come to some conclusion. I think I have now answered all the points raised by the noble Earl.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
The noble Earl gave a perfectly correct account of the Baghdad and Basra transaction. The agreement between Great Britain and Turkey is not quite complete, by the way. 1439 An agreement may be arrived at, the central point of which is that the Baghdad railway shall not proceed beyond Basra. Beyond Basra an agreement with His Majesty's Government will be necessary. His Majesty's Government contemplate that Basra shall be the terminus. His Majesty's Government have waived any question of participation in the branch from Baghdad to Basra on the understanding that the railway shall not proceed further than Basra. The question of having two British directors on the board is not judged quite amiably enough by the noble Earl, because they will, of course, be in such a minority that they will not be able to control the administration. But they are to be there in order to keep His Majesty's Government informed of any action as to rates, tolls, and so forth, and then, if His Majesty's Government consider that the adjustment of rates is unfair to us, they will, of course, then proceed by ordinary diplomatic means. As to Koweit, this, of course, is a very old story. As the noble Earl truly said, the condition of matters in respect of Koweit is an extraordinary illustration of the state of things in the East generally, and in the Persian Gulf and its little islands particularly. The arrangement is that Turkey shall not come beyond a certain point which is named, but I am afraid I have not got it. With regard to Koweit, His Majesty's Government are to recognise the suzerainty of Turkey, and, on the other hand, Turkey will agree that the autonomy of the Sheikh should exist in the future as in the past, complete and unimpaired. Arrangements between His Majesty's Government and the Sheikh made during the last five or six or eight years are to be recognised and to remain in full force. I think I have now answered all the noble Earl's questions.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, I do not know whether my noble friend who initiated this discussion is satisfied with the reply he has received. I should imagine not; and I cannot imagine the noble Viscount himself being satisfied with his own statement, so far, at least, as it relates to Persia. The noble Viscount laid down in his speech seven, so to speak, heads or principles of policy, to which we ought to adhere. I need not enumerate the whole of them. The first of them was what he called the "maintenance of the spirit of the Anglo-Russian Convention." Now anybody who has taken the trouble 1440 to read this Blue-book cannot have failed to realise that one of the greatest complaints that we have is that the spirit of the Convention has not been maintained. The second cardinal point of the noble Viscount was that our policy should be directed towards "maintaining the independence of Persia." It ought not to be very difficult to show that the independence of Persia vanished some time ago. The third particular was that we should direct our efforts towards the establishment of constitutional government in Persia. Constitutional government in Persia also vanished some time ago. The noble Viscount says that it is going to be restored because the Regent is going to return to Teheran at some not very distant period. I shall believe in the return of the Regent when I see his arrival at Teheran announced and not before; and in the same spirit. I should decline to believe in the restoration of any so-called representative institutions until that act equally is performed.
In endeavouring to carry out the final and cardinal point—namely, the avoidance of entanglement—I am afraid His Majesty's Government can hardly claim success in that particular direction. In fact, in regard to these seven articles, I should be disposed to think that the only one that has been complied with is the principle that loans and doles should be handed out to the Persian Government when they are in inextricable difficulties. I am not surprised that the statement of the noble Viscount is a somewhat inadequate one, because it so happens that there are very few people in this country who take the smallest interest in Persia or in the so-called "Persian question." The appearance of your Lordships' House is an index of the lack of interest taken in the subject. But, in spite of the undoubted apathy awl apparent ignorance which prevail, there are certain essential facts that we ought not to lose sight of and the first and the most important fact is this, that with every desire to be impartial—and I have not the smallest desire to make a Party attack on the Government—nobody who knows anything whatever about the question can deny that the result, no matter what the noble Viscount says, of the Anglo-Russian Convention has been practically to destroy Persia as an independent nation. I am quite ready to admit that I believe implicitly that when His Majesty's Government 1441 entered into this Convention they entered into it in a perfectly sincere and unselfish spirit. I think everybody will be ready to credit them with those intentions. But they seem to have made the mistake of assuming that the other party to that Agreement would look at the Convention in the same way.
I do not want to say too much about this Agreement, still it cannot be repeated too often what it actually consists of. As my noble friend pointed out, Persia was practically divided into three spheres. The largest and most important sphere was allotted to Russia; a large portion of the country was left as a so-called neutral zone; and we contented ourselves with an infinitesimal portion of territory consisting largely of what the late Lord Salisbury would have termed "light land." The Russians on their side have treated the Convention, not only in a serious, but in a really practical spirit—in so practical a spirit that they have practically turned the whole of the North of Persia into an appanage of the Russian Empire; and, as I have seen with row own eyes, the whole of Northern Persia is really treated at this moment more or less as a Russian colony. All foreign trade has been effectually strangled. The Russian Consuls give their orders to the Persian officials, and the country is not nominally but effectively occupied by a very large force of Russian troops. I should like to point out that whereas the noble Viscount seemed to make an attempt to minimise the numbers of these troops, it is almost impossible to obtain real particulars upon the point, and I do not believe that any English official in Persia at this moment can say exactly what the number of these men is. But one thing, at all events, is clear, and that is that there is a very large number and that they continue to conic in, and that there is not the remotest prospect so far as anybody can see of their ever going away.
When I was in Teheran not so very long ago, I came across a young man who seemed to me to afford a very good exemplification of the relative Persian military position. I came across a young gentleman who was a Field-Marshal in the Persian Army and who was a Cossack corporal at the same time—the only instance I have ever come across, so far, of the truth of the adage that every conscript carries a 1442 Field-Marshal's bâton in his knapsack. The position of that youth seemed to me to be typical of the Russian military position in Persia, and I do not think that any greater fiction can be propounded and circulated than to try to make people believe that the Russian occupation of Northern Persia is a temporary one. It is nothing of the kind. It is just as much a permanent occupation as the occupation of Algiers by the French troops is a permanent occupation, or the occupation of Egypt at this moment by British troops.
But to pass to another point. If anybody still believes in the other fiction of an independent Persia, I would ask him to study this Blue-hook which has been commented upon this afternoon. This Bluebook is one of the most pitiful records of helplessness, impecuniosity, and unpunished lawlessness that I have ever come across. It consists largely of miserable appeals to Russia and England to dole out small sums in order to carry out the simplest acts of an ordinary Government. An absent ruler, an empty Treasury, and a suspended Constitution—those are the outstanding features in the present situation. You often hear it said, and I am not prepared to dispute the fact, that the Persians, at all events at present, are not qualified to govern themselves. I confess that when I was in Persia I was not enormously impressed with their statesmanlike capacity, because at the time the Persian edifice appeared to be crumbling to pieces in all directions, they seemed to be intensely agitated by such questions as to whether the future Second Chamber should be composed of the hereditary or the nominated element. Those kind of abstruse questions appeared to carry more interest with them than the actual circumstances of the moment. But whether the Persians are fitted to govern themselves or not, they may, I think, legitimately complain that they have never been given the chance. They had a half chance once when Mr. Shuster was appointed; but with Mr. Shuster's departure vanished any hope of a regenerated Persia on constitutional lines. I should have thought, if His Majesty's Government were ever really—and I presume they were sincere—desirous of forwarding and aiding Persian independence, the last thing they ought to have done was to join in the campaign against Mr. Shuster. I always thought that the excuses which were made in this House and elsewhere for the dismissal 1443 of Mr. Shuster and our action in the matter were singularly inadequate; they amounted to little more than this—that, according to the noble Viscount opposite, Mr. Shuster's manners were not sufficiently good, and he was not a sufficiently tactful person altogether to be placed in that kind of position. I confess it seems to me that a fastidious taste of this kind is not very befitting a Government which professes to be animated by democratic ideals.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
I never said anything about Mr. Shuster except that his book would convince people that the existence of material and personages to found a Government upon was not there. I did not condemn Mr. Shuster at all.
§ LORD NEWTON
I was not referring to what the noble Viscount said to-day. I was referring to what he said a good many months ago, and I think if he will look up his speeches he will find that the gravamen of his charges against Mr. Shuster was that he was an untactful person and unfitted for the position in which he was placed. From all I was able to gather of Mr. Shuster—and I gathered it on the spot—he was an extremely able man, doing his best for the country, and he was got rid of because he was doing too well. The noble Viscount and my noble friend here are not able to speak with the freedom that a person like myself, who holds no office of any kind, can do, and I would say that it is the a b c of Russian foreign policy that Oriental nations on their boundaries should not be permitted to improve themselves if it can be avoided. The plain truth is that Mr. Shuster made himself principally obnoxious because he was doing good, collecting money, and increasing the revenue, and therefore was interfering with the designs of another Power. When Mr. Shuster was got rid of, that seemed to me to mark a decisive step in the rapid fall of this unfortunate country, because when he went, and when the Assembly was dissolved, it was perfectly obvious that the partition of Persia, although it might be denied on paper, was brought very much nearer than it ever had been before.
For my part, I cannot believe that it will be possible for the present state of things to continue. It suits the Russians well enough, but it is perfectly plain that, in spite of 1444 what the noble Viscount has said this afternoon, his Government do not feel satisfied with the present state of things, and if he will refer to the Blue-book he will find Sir Edward Grey complaining, so lately as last September, that what people here felt was that the changes since the Anglo-Russian Convention had been in force had been to our disadvantage. And coming to a still later date I find an even stronger complaint from him. In February of this year he complains, with almost bitter emphasis, that "such inequality of treatment is most regrettable." There is nothing surprising about this. We may as well look facts in the face. If the Russians get more than we do, it is because they are in a position to enforce their claims and we are not. Nothing is simpler than for the Russians to obtain what they want, not only by a display of force, but by using it if necessary. They have an unlimited number of men at their command, and with a minimum of trouble, and, I might almost say, with a minimum of expense, they can apply any pressure that is considered necessary.
Look, on the other hand, at our position. I do not want to say too much about that unfortunate expedition to Shiraz, which was alluded to by my noble friend. But compare that with the Russian proceedings. We send 500 or 600 men, who make their way with difficulty up to this place; they remain there practically prisoners for something like a year or more, and then with some difficulty they are permitted to retire to the coast and are eventually withdrawn. However unpleasant our relative incapacity as compared with Russia may be, it should not blind us to the facts, and the essential fact seems to me to be this, that if some kind of satisfactory government cannot be established before long in what is known as the neutral zone, then it is an absolute matter of certainty that you cannot expect that Russian influence and Russian control will be limited to the portion of Persia where it is now exercised, but that it must eventually spread to those regions where, until recently, British influence has been predominant.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, the noble Viscount did me the honour of quoting one or two passages from speeches which I have delivered upon this subject. Some of his quotations I recognised and some I did not, but I have no 1445 doubt he quoted me correctly. I am therefore tempted to add a very few words to this discussion. In the first place, what are we to think of the present situation in Persia? I venture to say that to any ordinary reader the Blue-book convoys a most depressing and most humiliating impression. The noble Viscount made the best of the case. But he will forgive me for saying that his best was a very indifferent best. We find Russia in occupation of Northern Persia; in Southern Persia chaos; and meanwhile the independence of Persia, to which we are committed as a policy, is gradually fading out of existence. The noble Viscount opposite charged my noble friend Lord Curzon with persistently attacking the Anglo-Russian Convention. I think my noble friend has never been opposed, any more than I have been, to a Convention with Russia, so far as the principle is concerned. I, certainly, have always been strongly of opinion that matters of this kind should form the subject of international agreements or understandings. It is impossible for us to go on sparring with our neighbours all over the world. Therefore, in principle, I welcomed the Convention. But I have never concealed my opinion that the Convention was a bad bargain for us, mainly because the sphere allotted to us had no real correspondence with the sphere of our actual interests.
Was it the case that my noble friend behind me was guilty of any exaggeration when he drew a marked contrast between the condition of things in Northern and Southern Persia? If I wanted conclusive evidence upon this point I should look for it in Sir Edward Grey's Despatch to Sir George Buchanan of September 25 last. I think it was the Despatch which my noble friend quoted a moment ago. What does Sir Edward Grey say in that Despatch? He says, to begin with, that he had some conversation with M. Sazonoff on the subject of Persia and pointed out on the map how large the Russian sphere was as compared with the British. I think a good many of us have shared that feeling for a long time past. Then the Despatch goes on—I said that what people here felt was that the changes since the Anglo-Russian Convention had been to our disadvantage. Russia was now in military occupation of some portions of Northern Persia; her shadow was thereby thrown right across the North; that inevitably made her influence predominant at Teheran, and ours correspondingly less.1446 Then he added this most appropriate and significant remark—And all this made it more than ever essential that we should be quite sure as regards the rest of Persia, and especially with regard to our commercial interests in the neutral zone.That seems to me to be an admirable account of the objects to which our diplomacy might well be directed at this moment.
But, my Lords, I agree with the noble Viscount up to a certain point. I do not think it fair to attribute the undoubted predominance of Russia in Persia entirely to the Anglo-Russian Convention. Her predominance there is due to factors that were in existence long before the Convention was thought of. She has a railway system which enables her to go right up to the Persian frontier. She has innumerable opportunities of exercising influence in Northern Persia which are denied to us in other parts of the country. What has happened in Northern Persia is what always happens when a strong and well-organised and wealthy country finds itself cheek by jowl with a poor, badly organised, and weak country. But, on the other hand, it is undoubtedly the case that the Convention has had very embarrassing results for us, particularly in regard to the condition of things within the neutral zone. We find ourselves continually up against the neutral zone at moments when it is most desirable that we should not be hampered in this manner. Take the question of railway construction. We find that we cannot interest ourselves in lines of railway, perfectly legitimate and most necessary for the development of the country, because they happen to fall within the neutral zone; and when my noble friend suggested that we might do in the case of Persia what we have done in other parts of the world, with very good results—that is, to lend British officers to organise a local force—the noble Viscount says that is a course which presents insuperable difficulties, because we are dealing with the neutral zone. Those are both illustrations of the way in which the existence of the neutral zone hampers us at every turn.
I do not suggest for one moment that we should endeavour to countervail the activity of Russia in Northern Persia by a corresponding activity in Southern Persia. 1447 None of us like to have 17,000 British troops locked up in Southern Persia, or that we should spend our money, or, for that matter, the money of India, in a prodigal fashion in those regions. But the present situation has really become intolerable. Look at all the ultimatums we have sent which have passed unheeded. Look at the futile expedition to Shiraz, ending in the death of a British officer. And all the time we are really paying the salaries of Persian officers and Persian gendarmerie out of British or Indian funds. The noble Viscount gave us a sketch of the objects to winch our policy should in his opinion be directed. So far as I was able to follow him, I think I agree with every one of the propositions which he enumerated. But I venture to suggest to him that a policy based on those lines is just as inconsistent with a policy of indifference or retirement as it is with a policy for the partition of Persia, which I for one would greatly regret to see take place.
The difficulty of the problem arises from this, that we have really to reconcile two conflicting sets of considerations. We desire to maintain the integrity and independence of Persia on the one hand, and, on the other, we desire to uphold the Anglo-Russian Convention, which involves a dual tutelage over Persia by the two Powers, a tutelage which, in fact, is hardly consistent with the independence of the Persian Government. I know how easy it is to criticise and how difficult it is to make suggestions, but I would venture to hope that so far as the neutral zone is concerned, we shall look the facts a little more courageously in the face than we have hitherto done. We are assuming responsibilities in the country, and it seems to me that we do not quite sufficiently recognise that the exercise of those responsibilities involves the assertion of certain rights. I still hold the opinion that has been attributed to me, that nothing could be worse in any part of Persia than that we should embark on what I once called a policy of adventure, but there is something quite as bad, and that is a policy of drift, and I am afraid that it is in a policy of that kind that we shall involve ourselves if we are not careful. I understand the noble Viscount to say that proposals had been in the air for getting rid of the neutral zone, but that those had been ruled out of order by those most concerned.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
Originally it was quoted by the noble Earl. Reference was made to our sending Indian officers, and I observed that further consideration had put an end to that project.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
That was not quite what I meant, but I will not press the point if I did not understand the noble Viscount correctly. Then as to this question of doles, this Blue-book seems to me to contain the annals of an apparently interminable series of doles. We were told just now by the noble Marquess that we were under a misapprehension, and that there was only one sum, I think he said, of £400,000 to be advanced jointly by the Russian and British Governments.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I will tell the noble Marquess in what way I am puzzled. The last Paper in this Bluebook contains an application to the Treasury in respect of an advance of £200,000 by the British Government, and £200,000 by the Government of Russia. Surely that is not the first advance of the kind which has taken place.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
That is what my noble friend behind me meant. Our point was that you really could not carry on this policy of small advances—what he very properly called "doles"—to an indefinite extent.
I am bound to say that of all the proposals for setting Persia on her legs again, the most promising seems to me to be the construction of commercial railways, which are more likely to bring civilisation and order in their train than any other change or reform we can contemplate, and I do not in the least grudge Russia her commercial railways in North Persia on this condition, that activity in North Persia should be balanced by similar activity in the construction of commercial railways in Southern Persia. There are three railway projects mentioned in the Blue-book. There is the 1449 line from Mohammerah to Khoramabad, and a line from Khoramabad to Ispahan, and the line from Bundar Abbas to Kerman. It is a little remarkable that those two latter lines are at once ruled out, on the ground that we cannot claim the right to give them any encouragement because they fall within the neutral zone.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
No; this would not apply to a railway from Bandar Abbas to Kerman; but the principle is laid down that if the line falls within the neutral zone it becomes a question between the two Powers. With regard to the Mohammerah-Khoramabad railway, I should like one word of explanation. There appears to have been most improper procrastination with regard to this line on the part of the Persian Government, a procrastination which stands out in relief against the action of the same Government in dealing with the Julfa line, the Russian line; the Russian Government intimated with perfect frankness that the Persian Government need expect no help from them until the Julfa line was granted. I think the noble Viscount told us that an option had been obtained for the Mohammerah-Khoramabad line.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
The last trace I can find of the Mohammerah line in the Blue-book is a strong injunction to the Minister that he was to press the Persian Government for all he was worth, and a reply was received to the effect that the Persian Government was still procrastinating.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
That must have been obtained since the Blue-book was closed.
I will only say a single word with regard to the larger question of lines which are not commercial lines but political or strategical lines. As to them I think we want a little more information. The 1450 Trans-Persian line, of course, very seriously affects the question of Indian defence, and many of us would have been glad if such a line could have been avoided, and if India could have remained with her present desert frontier on the side of Persia. But I have always recognised that one cannot expect considerations of that kind to prevail for an indefinite time, and that where a great international line is really required it is impossible for any Power, merely on the ground that such, a line does not suit its political convenience, to oppose its construction. On the other hand, it does seem to me to be only reasonable that in such a case the Power most interested should insist upon conditions, in this case conditions which would render the construction of the line strategically innocuous and as advantageous commercially as possible.
When this question was discussed here on a former occasion the noble Viscount told us that we had given no support to the project beyond refusing to veto the appointment of the Société d'Etudes, He said that the whole scheme was inchoate and immature, and that the encouragement which we were supposed to have given to it was imaginary. And he added that we should be free to deal with the report of the Société d'Etudes, and that we should have our say as to questions of gauge, alignment, management, representation on the board, branch lines, and the treatment of British trade. Well, my Lords, I think it is clear from what fell from the noble Viscount just now that we have advanced a good deal beyond the position which he then laid down. We rather understood from him that we were now definitely committed to agree to the construction of the line not only as far as Teheran, but beyond Teheran, subject only to the consideration of the point which it would eventually reach. If I am wrong I hope the noble Marquess will correct me, And I should also like particularly to know whether the pledge that the whole matter would come before the consideration of Parliament is a pledge which still holds good. That is all I have to say about the Trans-Persian railway. The only other question which I will ask is a question with regard to the Baghdad railway. We should like to know whether we are to understand that under the arrangement which is now in contemplation the construction of the section between Baghdad and Busra 1451 will revert to the German company. That is a point which I do not think was made quite clear to us just now by the noble Viscount.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
Before the noble Marquess, the Leader of the, House, replies would be allow me, to save my speaking again later, to ask him to answer one or two questions which I put to the noble Viscount, and which, no doubt in my flood of interrogations, the noble Viscount omitted to notice. One was as to the alleged Treaty between Mongolia and Tibet and its possible effect upon the relations between ourselves and Russia in Tibet. The other point was whether the agreement between ourselves and the Turks with regard to the Tigris Valley and the Persian Gulf included any withdrawal of the Turkish pretensions to suzerainty in the districts of El Katr and Bahrein which has been a source of trouble in the past. The third point is whether the noble Marquess can give us any information as to the Commission which is to be responsible for the navigation of the river. I asked whether it was to be a Turko-British commission or a commission on which foreigners would be represented, and could be tell us what would be the nature of its powers.
THE LORD PRIVY SEAL AND SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (THE MARQUESS OF CREWE)
My Lords, I am anxious not to detain the House at any length, so I will merely reply to the few points raised in the debate. The noble Lord opposite, Lord Newton, spoke of the independence of Persia having altogether disappeared; and the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition, although I do not think he went so far as that, spoke of it, as becoming more and more compromised as time goes on. But I cannot help asking Lord Newton, who, I think, ascribes most of the misfortunes of Persia, or at any rate a great many of them, to the Anglo-Russian Convention, where he thinks the independence of Persia would have been to-day if no Agreement whatever had been come to between Russia and ourselves? And the noble Lord went on to say that he thought we had missed our chance fatally for the rehabilitation of Persia by not standing up in support of Mr. Shuster when he was working at the Persian finances, and the noble Lord 1452 brought a charge against my noble friend behind me which my noble friend was not altogether prepared to accept. I have no desire to go back to the whole career of Mr. Shuster in Persia, and certainly not to utter any adverse criticism upon that very capable and energetic gentleman, except to say just this, that he almost seems to have placed himself in the position which a European adviser—say a Frenchman or a German—might, who had gone out to look after the financial affairs of one of the Central American Republics, supposing one of them to have required assistance of that kind, and, having arrived there, had entirely ignored the United States as having any interests whatever on the American Continent; and so far as Mr. Shuster ignored existing facts, one of which was the great influence which, as the noble Marquess so truly pointed out, Russia had long possessed in Northern Persia, so far his action tended to make more difficult the task which I quite agree he carried out with the utmost honesty and goodwill.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
I have no doubt he endeavoured to make them pay their taxes, but I think he did some other things beside, The noble Lord (Lord Newton), I am afraid, finds himself in what I can only call the depressing belief that things must almost have come to the point in Southern Persia when there will be a choice simply between the extension of Russian influence into that quarter of the country or of something approaching a British occupation. I venture to hope that things will not come to that pass, because although there is much, as revealed in the Blue-book, which is still depressing and melancholy in the condition of Persia, there are signs of some degree of importance which I think forbid one to despair altogether of the future.
Now on the question of advances, I am afraid that an interruption which I made when the noble Earl opposite was speaking may have misled the House. It is quite true, of course, that there was more than one advance, but at the same time it is not the case that each of those small doles—£10,000, £30,000, and £50,000—which the 1453 noble Earl mentioned as appearing in the Blue-book, represent independent and separate advances. Those figures refer to the two larger amounts, the £200,000, which was advanced half by Russia and half by ourselves, in March, 1912, and the £400,000, also divided between Russia and ourselves—when I say "ourselves" I mean both Great Britain and India—the allusion to which appears almost on the last page of the Blue-book. Those are the two advances that have been made. I quite agree that they do not represent the form of advance to Persia which we should have desired to make. Both Russia and ourselves—and by no means least Russia, because the Russian Government have been insistent on the poiut—have desired to see a large sum, four, five or six millions, as much as it is generally agreed that the resources of Persia can carry, advanced in order that more than a beginning may be made with setting the Government upon a stable footing. I think it would be impossible to say at this moment that there is an immediate prospect of a large advance of that, kind being made. It has been hoped that such an advance might be forthcoming in connection with the railway enterprise of which the noble Marquess opposite spoke towards the conclusion of his observations, and it seems to be not impossible that that channel will be the one which is to provide this large loan.
Now, as regards railways. The noble Marquess spoke of the Trans-Persian railway, and seemed to think that some marked advance had been made since my noble friend behind me last described the position of the project. I do not think it would be accurate to say that any such advance has been made, or that we have entered into any kind of engagement beyond that which was indicated when my noble friend last spoke. It still remains to be seen whether a railway from Russia to India, or to some point on the Persian Gulf, can be regarded as a paying commercial proposition for which money would be found—money, that is to say, raised in the ordinary way from the public, because no regular proposition has been seriously considered of a formal Government guarantee for that line. We still remain in the position of maintaining that the alignment of such a railway, wherever or whenever it is to be made, must be an alignment which has our sanction and approval. All that has 1454 happened is that there is a proposition for the making of a line to Teheran, the whole of which so far lies within the Russian sphere, and the construction of which, therefore, is a matter for the Russian Government. Therefore I think I can disabuse the noble Marquess of any fears which he may entertain that the project has reached a further stage in any sense dangerous to us, or involving any admissions or concessions on our part of which the noble Marquess was not a ware. We are, in fact, no more committed than we were to anything which could be described as a Trans-Persian railway. My noble friend behind me explained what the position was with regard to the Mohammerah-Khoramabad railway, and it is not necessary for me to say more upon that point.
As regards the railway from Bagdad to Basra h, I understand that the line will be constructed by what the noble Marquess describes as the German company, by which the previous sections of the line have been constructed. The noble Earl seemed to think that on our part it was a matter of all give and no take, and that the promoters of the Bagdad railway had in all respects got the best of us in continuing the line thus. But the noble Earl must remember that the two points which caused us to look with equanimity on the continuance of the line are, in the first place, that it stops at Basrah which, when all is said and done, was not by any means a necessity for it, although the point is an extremely important one for us; and the second is, of course, the appointing on the board of two representatives of this country who will be able to keep the Government informed of any movements towards arrangements in the working of the line which may be prejudicial to British interests.
I thought that the noble Marquess at first somewhat overstated the position as regards our railway interests in the neutral zone, but at a later point in his speech he stated quite correctly what the position is. The first phrase that he used was that we were forbidden to interest ourselves in railways in the neutral zone. That, of course, is not the case, and the noble Marquess afterwards corrected himself. Our limitation, I take it, is that we cannot expect in the neutral zone to have the sole construction of and the sole control over 1455 railway lines, as to the importance of which I entirely agree with the noble Marquess, because I too hold that the best hope for Persia is in the construction of these commercial lines. So far as the benefit to Persia is concerned I state candidly that I would far rather see a series of branch lines made than I would the central line which might ultimately become the spine from which they all emerge; and there is no reason that I can see why the fact that agreement has to be arrived at, and probably a certain proportion of the capital divided up among the different parties concerned, should interfere with the construction of railways in the neutral zone. I am afraid I cannot answer the question which the noble Earl last put about the precise composition of the Shat al Arab commission, but I will ascertain what information is available and communicate with the noble Earl. I am glad to think there is every prospect that a satisfactory agreement will be come to regarding all the points on the Persian Gulf, in addition to Koweit and El Katr, of which the noble Earl spoke. There has been a disposition on the part of Turkey to meet us in a friendly spirit, so far as I know, with regard to all those places on the Gulf.
I think it only remains to answer the question regarding the rather strange figure of M. Dordjieff, and the rumours which were prevalent about an arrangement come to by him between Tibet and Mongolia on behalf of the former. The story as it was told was that M. Dordjieff was sent on a mission from the Dalai Lama to St. Petersburg; that he went by way of Mongolia, and at Urga entered into a Convention on behalf of the Dalai Lama, deeply, of course, compromising Tibet., by which each of the two countries recognised the independence of the, other and guaranteed each other mutual assistance. And then the story went on that M. Dordjieff continued his mission to St. Petersburg. What he actually did we are not in a position to state, but we are categorically informed that he had no kind of mission from the Dalai Lama, and no permission to conduct a mission or to enter into any kind of agreement with Mongolia. That is as much as I can tell the noble Earl.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
I will not at this late hour trouble your Lordships with any reply, but my Notice 1456 concludes with a Motion for Papers; and before I withdraw that Motion, which probably the noble Viscount would wish me to do, may I ask a question? I withdraw the request for Papers with regard to Tibet and China. I think the noble Viscount gave good reasons why I should not press for them. Be said a conference was to take place, and that it might throw a cloud over their proceedings if the history of the past was too closely revealed. Then there is the question of Papers about the agreement with Turkey, the agreement about the Baghdad railway, the Persian Gulf and Koweit, and so on. I wonder if the noble Viscount would represent to the Foreign Secretary our feeling that we should be very glad if Papers could be given us dealing with those matters. The third point is with regard to Papers about Persia. We have been a little hampered by the fact that we have been dealing with a Blue-book the latest date in which is February of this year, and the noble Viscount sought to counter me by quoting information which is not at my disposal. I wonder, therefore, if he will represent our feeling that a later Blue-book than this may be forthcoming. Upon one small point I would like to know a little more, and that is about the money. We have never really got to the bottom of these doles yet. There was the old £400,000 given in 1912; there are two sums mentioned in the Blue-book of £10,000 and £15,000 given at a later date; there is the third loan of £400,000 to be divided in equal moieties between the Russian Government and ourselves, of which half of our half is to come from India. Then there is a separate £100,000 to be given, half by India and half by ourselves, to the Fars Gendarmerie. Would it not settle the whole question if the noble Viscount would allow me to put upon the Table a Motion for a Return of the loans made to Persia since, say, the Anglo-Russian Convention? I should think there would be no objection to granting that.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
I do not think there will be any objection to promising the noble Earl the facts as to the money. With regard to China and Tibet, the noble Earl agrees with me that there are obvious difficulties in producing Papers now. As to Persia, it is quite true that it is rather disappointing to have no Blue-book of a later date than February, but, as the noble Earl is aware, the Persian Papers are 1457 necessarily rather behind date because we have to communicate with various personages and authorities, including Russia. I will, however, speak to Sir Edward Grey on the matter, and do the best I can.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.