HL Deb 27 July 1914 vol 17 cc155-7

My Lords, I beg to ask the noble Marquess the Leader of the House a Question of which I have given him private notice. We have all read with feelings of grave anxiety the reports which appear in to-day's newspapers as to the situation in South-Eastern Europe. It is confidently stated that there has been a rupture of diplomatic relations between Austria-Hungary and Servia, that the Servian Minister at Vienna has been handed his passports, that the Austro-Hungarian Minister at Belgrade has left that place, and that both countries have mobilised a large number of their land forces. We should, I am sure, be grateful if the noble Marquess were able to give us any reassuring information as to these matters. We notice that it is stated that Servia has accepted no fewer than ten out of the twelve demands formulated by Austria-Hungary. That in itself has to a certain extent a hopeful appearance. I also notice statements to the effect that His Majesty's Government have offered certain suggestions with a view to mediation, and that mediation is not looked upon unfavourably by the Powers concerned. I do not desire to press the noble Marquess for any information which on public grounds it is not desirable to give, but it would be most satisfactory to us if he could tell us anything that will relieve the suspense which we all feel.


My Lords, I have to thank the noble Marquess for giving me notice of his intention to put this Question. I have no direct information of what is happening in Austria or in Servia beyond what is familiar to your Lordships through the usual channels, but I think it will be of interest to the House to know what the Foreign Secretary has been doing in view of the serious situation which has arisen in Europe. After receiving the text of the communication made by Austria-Hungary to Servia Sir Edward Grey saw several of the Ambassadors, and pointed out that so far as the matter at issue remained one between Austria-Hungary and Servia we had no direct concern in it, but that the moment there was any risk of its spreading further it would naturally become a matter of grave concern to us as well as to other Powers. Sir Edward Grey had no information as to how the situation was regarded by the Russian Government, but he stated that if it were found that relations between Austria-Hungary and Russia assumed a threatening aspect it seemed to him that the sole chance of peace would be that the other four Powers—Germany, France, Italy and ourselves, all being immediately unconcerned in the Servian question—should do their best both at St. Petersburg and at Vienna to prevent any beginning of military operations while an attempt was being made to arrange a settlement. Then came the news that Austria-Hungary had broken off diplomatic relations with Servia, and Sir Edward Grey made the following proposition as a method of applying the views which I have explained. He asked our Ambassadors in Paris, Berlin, and Rome to ask the Governments to which they were respectively accredited whether they would be willing to arrange that the French, German, and Italian Ambassadors should meet Sir Edward Grey in London to discuss a means, if possible, of arranging the present difficulties. At the same time, he asked our Ambassadors to request those Governments to be so good as to authorise their representatives at Vienna, St. Petersburg, and Belgrade to inform the different Governments of the intended conference, and to ask them to suspend any action until the result of it was known. I understand that Sir Edward Grey has not vet had complete answers to these propositions. He holds—in which I think the house will agree—that for such a purpose as that the co-operation of all the four Powers is practically indispensable. It was a somewhat unusual course that Sir Edward took in making this proposition without finding out beforehand whether it would be acceptable to the different parties, but in view of the urgency of the situation I hope your Lordships will agree that he took the best course in the circumstances that could be taken. It is our view, and I was glad to observe from what fell from the noble Marquess that it appears also to be his, that assuming that the text of the Servian reply is accurate as we saw it in the newspapers this morning, it does seem to afford a basis upon which a friendly and disinterested group of Powers, including, of course, those who are equally in the confidence of Austria-Hungary and of Russia, ought to be able to arrange a generally acceptable settlement. It is, of course, clear that any action winch can be taken in this crisis of a useful kind ought to be taken without delay, because the consequences of an extension of this difficulty, involving as it might more than one of the Great European Powers, are so terrifying to contemplate that we all shrink from the notion of such an extension, and I am certain that in doing his best to avert it, so far as the spokesman of one Power can, the Foreign Secretary will have the support of all parties and of all persons in this country.