§ LORD LAMINGTON rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether they have any confirmation of the report that the streets of towns in Southern Albania are covered with the naked bodies of women who have been strangled and of babies hacked to pieces, and that the population are being exterminated excepting for those refugees who are starving in and around Valona; to ask further, whether in view of the fact that Northern Albania is protected from these terrible atrocities by the presence of an International Force, His Majesty's Government will not take steps to procure the despatch of International Forces to Central and Southern Albania.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, if it is true that. Austria has declared war upon Servia, there is additional urgency for the Question that stands in my name. During the recent Balkan War the Great Powers managed to secure peace amongst themselves, but beyond that they did not obtain anything very greatly to their credit. The declarations which were introduced safeguarding certain territories were all set at naught. The one thing they did was to set up this State of Albania, and I believe it was this country which was largely instrumental in doing it, and it was to the credit of Sir Edward Grey and His Majesty's Government that they were able to accomplish that task. Therefore we have a special responsibility in the matter. It would be lamentable, if war is to take place, that anything should be done to allow the war to have its ravages in Albania; but rather everything should be done to keep Albania outside the arena. I only say that by way of preface.229
Coming to the subject-matter of my Question, which is based on a letter which has been corroborated by a great deal of other evidence, it would, perhaps, be as well if I read in extensor the contents of the letter. It runs—
One cannot exaggerate the appalling atrocities that are being enacted by the Greek bands in the South. These bands are composed of Greek soldiers who remained behind when the Greeks nominally evacuated the South. They all wear their uniform with the badges removed, and are under their own officers. Yesterday it was reported that 60,000 Servian refugees were crowding down to Valona from Berat and Koritza (which have now fallen to the Greeks) and the neighbourhood. An officer of the gendarmerie there who arrived here to-day reported that the number was more like 100,000 as the whole country was devastated, and the Albanians were killing their own wives and children to prevent them falling into the hands of the Greeks. They have literally burned out the whole country side to cover up all traces of their atrocities. This officer said it was almost impossible to believe what he had seen with his own eves: streets full of naked bodies of women, each with the mark of strangulation, and little babies literally hacked to pieces with knives, the idea being to utterly exterminate the inhabitants.
We have a double responsibility with respect to this portion of Albania. First, because we played a foremost part in its creation. But there is an additional responsibility to which I alluded earlier in the session—namely, that at the time when we ceded the Ionian Islands to Greece it was strongly stipulated in the Treaty at that time that Corfu should be neutral territory, and that at no time should armed forces, naval or military, be allowed to be assembled there. During all last winter, at the time when the question of the southern frontier as between Greece and Albania was debated, there were men being brought over from Corfu on to the mainland into this debatable territory. Arms to the number of 30,000 were despatched from Corfu, and it was generally recognised that the situation which we deplore to-day was certain to be brought about by the fact that these men and arms were being, under the connivance of the Greek Government, allowed to be imported into this particular area of Epirus. His Majesty's Government did nothing whatever to prevent this taking place although they had this stringent condition, to which they would only, surely, have had to call attention, in the Treaty laying down that Corfu was to be neutral territory and on no account was any military force to be settled there. I do blame His Majesty's Government for that, because they must have been per-
fectly aware of what was taking place, and any one could have told them what would be the consequences of allowing that action to go on. Therefore I say we have a double responsibility at the present time.
§ I am sure we must all sympathise with the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in his desire not to have to send any troops into Albania and to keep out of any complications, if possible, in that region; but I do not think he takes sufficient credit to himself for what he has been able to do in Northern Albania. He was instrumental in sending to Scutari an International Force, I do not think amounting to more than 300 or 400 men; certainly we have only half a battalion amongst them. That International Force has been able to secure peace and a certain amount of order in Northern Albania. Therefore all I ask for is an extension of that which, to the credit of the Government, they have been able to do in Northern Albania. Only yesterday the noble Viscount opposite was very eloquent in saving what was our attitude towards misgovernment throughout the world. He said that it had always been one of the glories of this country to do the policing of the world.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
That was not my own expression. It was one that I accepted from the most rev. Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury.
At any rate, the noble Viscount introduced the words into his own speech. He went on to say that when there was oppressive wrongdoing it was our duty, if we were able, to press those concerned to redress the wrongs. All that I ask is that we should act up to those fine sentiments. I admit that if it is true that war has been declared the position has changed considerably since I put this Question on the Paper, but even now I believe it would be possible to prevent these outrages going on and also to prevent warfare being extended into Albania. We sympathised with Putumayo; we had an interesting debate yesterday about the miseries of contract labour on the Islands of San Thomé and Principé; from time to time we have Motions on questions of this kind; and there is a Bill now before Parliament dealing with old horses. Yet this country 231 seems to be indifferent to the frightful barbarities that are taking place in Southern Albania. How is it that we are deaf to the shrieks of these massacred women and children? It cannot be due to the distance, for this place is only some 60 hours journey from this country. If something is not done soon, as the letter which I have read shows, there will be no cries and no shrieks, because the whole population will have been exterminated. Therefore it is that I ask His Majesty's Government to do something to prevent the continuance of these atrocities.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (VISCOUNT MORLEY)
My Lords, I do not draw back at all from any of what the noble Lord has ironically called fine sentiments.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
I take the same view to-day that I took yesterday, that it is one of the glories of this country to protect those who are suffering from inhumanity and oppression; but surely my noble friend knows that we cannot enter into chivalrous enterprises of every kind that may present themselves. We are bound to regard all the conditions that attend every set of circumstances. It may well be, in attempting to redress or to remove a certain number of vile atrocities or outrages, that if you close your eyes to the circumstances and the conditions involved you may produce more human misery than if you had left the original evil alone. Now, as to the particular case raised by my noble friend, he is quite wrong in supposing that the Foreign Office and His Majesty's Government are looking on with indifference at the allegation of these enormities, these abominations, which are reported. The noble Lord read out words from a letter published in The Times to-day from Mr. Aubrey Herbert.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
The noble Lord first asks whether the Government have any confirmation of the reports. No details have been received at the Foreign Office as to the horrors and hideous atrocities referred to in the noble Lord's Question. As to the numbers of those who have been rendered homeless, our only reports are from unofficial sources and cannot well be considered as much more than general rumour. It appears from reliable private sources that there are at Valona some 12,000 refugees front South Albania, and in the surrounding country it can hardly be doubted that thousands more—it may be many thousands—are in urgent need of the necessaries of life. But proposals have been made for their immediate relief which it is hoped will be effective. The Italian Government were prepared to send large quantities of maize, but singularly, in the circumstances, that maize is said to have been declined by the refugees. The International Commission of Control seated at Durazzo are reported to have placed 100,000 francs at the disposal of a special committee for the purpose of immediate relief. The six Powers are considering the dispatch from Durazzo of an international mission who will endeavour to elucidate these past transactions and to further the restoration of something like order and confidence.
On the second part of the Question the noble Lord referred to past affairs which seemed to place a special responsibility on the English Government and as to which he seemed to impute blame of almost wilful ignorance on the part of His Majesty's Government of what was to happen in the future. That is not so. The British Government did all that could be done and I think had perfect knowledge of what might happen; but it does not follow from that that they were able to prevent what did happen. The presence of an international force in Scutari is due to special circumstances connected with the evacuation of Scutari by Montenegro. For the present, after constant consideration of all the reports, His Majesty's Government adhere to their decision that the situation, involving any number of international points, does not warrant the dispatch of British troops to any other part of Albania. As the noble Lord knows, we have a force in Northern Albania; it would, however, be indefensible to repeat that operation by ourselves alone in Southern Albania. But 233 there would be no objection on our part to that task being undertaken by any other Power which might think it its duty or thought it was desirable.
§ LORD LAMINGTON
I should like to ask whether representations have been made to other Powers that we would join with them in the extension of the system which has operated so successfully in Northern Albania. That is the only way that I know of by which you can save Albania.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
The Albanian question is about as complex as any question that has ever faced a Government or various Governments together, and it cannot be dealt with in this trenchant off-hand manner.
§ *THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, I cannot help expressing my hope that the noble Viscount and his colleagues will consider very carefully the statement of my noble friend. The noble Viscount really made hardly any attempt to minimise the gravity of the condition of things which my noble friend described. I think I caught a reference by the noble Viscount to the enormities—hideous enormities, I think he said—which were taking place in Albania.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Is the noble Viscount able to tell us that these reports are exaggerated?
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
No. All I am able to say is that details from anything like reliable sources have not yet reached us.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
It seems impossible to resist the conclusion that what the noble Viscount properly describes as enormities have taken place, and are taking place, in Albania. He admitted there were 12,000 refugees who had been driven to Valona, and he said there were many thousands more in the adjoining country. That really does point to a very appalling state of things in this part of the world, and while we quite admit that the noble Viscount is right in saying that we cannot pose as crusaders and seek out grievances to redress wherever they may be found, here is a part of the world for the 234 condition of which we have, as my noble friend stated, a certain amount of responsibility. The noble Viscount was only able to tell us that if any other Power liked to come to the rescue we should not object. I think my noble friend is entitled to ask not only that we should not object, but that we should be glad to co-operate with any Power who will make it their business to see that something is done to arrest the carnage that is going on in this unfortunate region.
§ EARL LOREBURN
My Lords, I was born in sight of the territory which is now the subject of this scourge, and I recollect the time when the Liberal Party looked on in the spirit of Mr. Gladstone with sympathy—and practical sympathy as far as it could go—for these populations, and I retain the feeling that sometimes makes one appear somewhat in conflict with the modern ideas that seem to pervade some of our friends. I quite recognise the difficulty. Nobody would desire to press the Government unduly, but I do not think what my noble friend says is adequate. He says we should not be averse from any other Power coming forward in a fair spirit. Can he not extend that by saying that we should be willing to assist if other Powers would share the task?
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
I am willing to suggest that to Sir Edward Grey, but I am not sure that I should back it.
§ EARL LOREBURN
Then I greatly regret it, and I must say that it is a grossly inadequate answer for a Liberal Minister to make, because that is not the spirit in which we as a nation ought to approach these questions, especially in regard to populations where we have most properly undertaken some responsibility. I greatly regret what I would call a decadent answer.
*THE LORD PRIVY SEAL AND SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (THE MARQUESS OF CREWE)
My Lords, I have no wish to detain the House after what has passed, but I should like to say one word with reference to what has just fallen from my noble and learned friend. I can quite understand the feeling of horror and indignation which he has expressed and which must be entertained by all humane persons who hear the reports of what is going on in this part of Albania. But when 235 he alludes to the former spirit which animated the Party to which we both belong and in particular to the general impulses which filled the mind of Mr. Gladstone I think it is fair to point out that although we all remember the crusading spirit which animated our great leader in those days, yet it will not be found, I think, on reference to history, that Mr. Gladstone was prone to rush into plans of international occupation or of sending troops, even in concert with other Powers, even in cases where he knew that atrocities had been perpetrated and a terrible state of thinks existed. It is not a light matter—and I am sure nobody is more aware of that than the noble Marquess opposite (Lord Lansdowne)—to engage in the occupation of any country by international troops. We have the case of Crete in our minds, and I do not know that we can look back with great satisfaction to the record of the international occupation of Crete. His Majesty's Government certainly would not say for a moment that the idea or possibility of such an occupation ought not to be carefully considered. But it is not the kind of enterprise in which the Foreign Office should lightly advise the country to engage, and although 236 I am certain that everything which has been said will receive the close attention of Sir Edward Grey I think it is reasonable for us to point out that the notion of sending troops, even in concert with some other Power or Powers, is not a matter which can be treated as one of no great import or as one which might not involve, in conceivable circumstances, very serious consequences both to this country and generally in Europe. I trust that noble Lords opposite will admit that we are animated by ideas not less humane than their own. Nobody, I am certain, will suppose that my right hon. friend the Foreign Secretary is disposed to put aside such duties of humanity as may be expected to devolve upon this country, but I venture to add these words of caution in order that it may not be supposed, as the noble Lord opposite seemed to think, that the matter is a quite simple one which can easily be settled by an agreement to send a battalion or even two battalions representing the Great Powers of Europe.
§ House adjourned at a quarter past Seven o'clock, till To-morrow, Four o'clock.