§ MR. LAYARD
Sir, before you leave the Chair, and the House goes into Committee of Supply, I wish, as briefly as I am able, to call the attention, of the House to the state of our relations with Persia. My apology to the House and to the Government for delaying the important business to which we shall next proceed is my conviction that we are about to enter, if we have not actually entered, into a quarrel with the right against us—a quarrel from which it may not be very easy to withdraw, and one which may lead to most disastrous results, and may be attended with serious damage to our interests in Central Asia; I therefore entreat the attention of the House to this subject for a few moments. I know that Eastern questions are unpalatable to the House, and considering the connection that exists, in many respects, between England and the Eastern Powers, I do consider it most extraordinary that Eastern affairs excite so little interest here. I should have brought this question under the notice of the House some weeks ago, if I had not hoped that the matter would have been arranged and that a rupture would have been avoided; but I now find, from authority upon which I can depend, that we are about to take, if we have not actually taken, hostile steps against Persia. This statement is confirmed by an announcement in the public prints this morning that—according to one account, five ships, and according to another, two ships—have sailed from India for Bushire. I claim the indulgence of the House upon another ground. During the last three years I have continually called attention to the state of our relations with Central Asia, and I think my anticipations have to a certain extent proved to be correct. The House will remember that I repeatedly warned the Government of the importance of defending Kars, and about a year ago I seriously directed their attention to our relations with Persia. At that time, in January last year, our mission in Persia was in what I considered very weak and inefficient hands. I think the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. D. Seymour), if he did not give notice, intended to give notice that he would call the 1714 attention of the House to the subject, but, unfortunately, he had been swallowed up in that Government Maelstrom in which so many independent Members are shipwrecked in this House. I regret this circumstance, because the hon. Gentleman would have been able to afford us very valuable information on the subject. On a former occasion I stated that, while bearing testimony to the high character, qualities, and abilities of Mr. Murray, our Minister at the Court of Teheran, and while I considered him well, fitted for diplomatic service in Europe, I did think it unfortunate that, at a moment when great interests were at stake, a gentleman who was not acquainted with Persia, who knew nothing of the manners of the people or of their language, should have been sent as the representative of this country to the Court of the Shah, and I ventured to point out a gallant gentleman who eminently united all those qualifications which it was necessary for a British representative in Persia to possess. The danger I then anticipated has unhappily come to pass. I think the House will agree with me, when I have stated the facts of the case, that we have got into a serious and not very creditable quarrel, owing to the want of those very qualifications which I pointed out as essentially necessary to the British representative in Persia. I know it is difficult to obtain accurate information on such a subject; but I will endeavour to describe the state of affairs as correctly as possible. The Government may tell me that I ought to have asked for papers. That is the answer which an Independent Member always gets in this House; but if I had asked for papers, they would have been refused on the usual ground of "inconvenience to the public service," while, if my request had been complied with, before the papers could have been produced we should probably have embarked in a war without Parliament having expressed any opinion on the subject. I will, however, state the case, as I have heard it both from the partisans of our mission and from those of the Persian Government. We treat an Eastern nation as the sculptor in the fable portrayed the man and the lion. We have blue-books, official gazettes, newspapers, and ingenious friends of the Government, who can state the case in the most advantageous manner for ourselves. But Persia has no blue-books, no gazettes, no Houses of Parliament, no ingenious friends of the Government 1715 to represent her case in the most favourable light. It is possible, therefore, that I may err in the facts, but if I do so, I hope the noble Lord at the head of the Government will put me right. It appears, then, that there was a certain Mirza Hashim, who held in Persia some such office as that filled by the Clerk of the Ordnance in England. He had some dispute with the Persian Government, connected, I believe, with pecuniary matters. Whether he was indebted or not to the Government I will not venture to say, but he apprehended that he might be subjected to unfair usage, and therefore took refuge in the British Mission. It is an old custom in Persia, that persons who have committed crimes or have quarrelled with the Government can take refuge in certain places, where they are free from arrest. They may go into a mosque or sit under a gun in a park of artillery, or take refuge in a foreign mission. Mirza Hashim thought that he could not get rid of his difficulties in a better way than by taking refuge in the British Mission. The only point on which I have any doubt is, whether Mr. Murray was at that time in Persia, or whether the mission was in the hands of the Chargé d'Affaires, Mr. Thompson. But, if Mr. Murray was not in Teheran when Mirza Hashim took refuge in the British Mission, he found him there when he arrived. It was, of course, not convenient that the Mirza should reside for ever in the British Mission, but the difficulty was, how to get rid of him. He could not be turned into the street, because that would have exposed him to the risk of being seized by the Persian Government, and would not have been creditable to our mission, where he had claimed sanctuary. At length Mr. Murray hit upon the plan of making him British agent at Shiraz. When the Persian Government heard this they said, "It is all very well that as long as Mirza Hashim is under your roof you should give him refuge; we will respect the mission house and not touch him; but the moment he leaves that asylum we shall take him prisoner and not allow him to go to Shiraz." Unfortunately Hashim had married a near relative of the Shah, a Princess of the Royal Blood. The lady, however, did not enjoy a very good reputation in Teheran. Whether there were any grounds for the insinuations against her character I do not know; but she was seized by her brother, a Prince of the Royal Blood, who said, "Whether Mirza Hashim goes to Shiraz 1716 or not, this lady shall not accompany him; I shall detain her here." According to the law of the country, he had a perfect right to secure her person and shut her up in his harem. But the seizure of the lady and the threat against Mirza Hashim led to a bitter correspondence between the British Mission and the Persian Government. I believe that not only the Persian Prime Minister, but the Shah himself, indulged in unjustifiable language. The Shah, I understand, wrote a letter to Mr. Murray, reflecting on his personal character. Mr. Murray then sent in an ultimatum. He demanded, among other things, these three concessions—That the lady should be given up to the British Mission; that Mirza Hashim should be recognised as the British agent at Shiraz; and that both the Shah and his Prime Minister should make an apology to the British Mission. The Persian Government refused to accept the ultimatum. Mr. Murray extended the time in hopes that his demands would be granted; but, the Persian Government still declining to satisfy him, he hauled down his flag and left Teheran. Such, I think, is a fair statment of the case. Now, I have no doubt the House will agree with me that, if the facts are as I have stated them, we have neither right nor justice on our side in the present quarrel. Those Gentlemen in this country whose authority upon Persian affairs is of the greatest weight are, I believe, of my opinion. Let us consider the demands of Mr. Murray. By the first he asked that the wife of Mirza Hashim should be delivered up to the British Mission. Now, if there is one subject upon which Easterns are more jealous and sensitive than another it is with regard to their women. It will be in the recollection of hon. Gentlemen that some years ago the Russian Ambassador in Persia and many of his attachés were murdered. I believe that one great cause of the crime was a statement that some Persian women had been inveigled into the Russian Mission. And I have been told by an officer, in whose veracity I have the greatest confidence, that one of the causes of that lamentable event in Affghanistan, which led to the destruction of a British army, was a suspicion on the part of the inhabitants that we had been interfering with their women. It was, therefore, the duty of our representative to avoid any discussion with the Persian Government relative to women. But I maintain that the Shah had an undoubted right to cause 1717 his relative to be seized and to shut her up in his harem. The second demand was, that Mirza Hashim should be recognised as our agent at Shiraz. Now, next to their women, Easterns are most sensitive upon that system of protection which has been adopted by foreign nations in that part of the world. It has grown into a perfect nuisance. In Turkey, until a few years ago, every ruffian who had committed a crime, every man who had quarrelled with the Government or with his master, took refuge in the English, French, Russian, or even Greek Mission. For a few piastres he obtained a passport from the consul, or some other functionary, and became a protected subject. I am happy to say that, as far as Turkey is concerned, the system has been done away with, or, at all events, very much modified—a result which is in a great measure due to the noble Lord at the head of the Government. But in Persia the system still flourishes. As far as I can understand, Mirza Hashim had no right whatever to British protection; but unfortunately Mr. Murray was not content with giving him refuge in our mission—he would send him as our agent to Shiraz. By the second article of a treaty concluded between England and Persia in 1841, it was expressly provided that we should have no commercial agent in any part of Persia except at Teheran and Tabreez and a resident at Bushire, who is the agent of the East India Company. That article was, no doubt, inserted by the Persian Government in order to avoid the nuisance of having consuls in all parts of the country, interfering with their internal affairs and protecting their subjects. But in the teeth of that article, Mr. Murray insisted upon sending Mirza Hashim as our agent to Shiraz. It may be said he was not a commercial agent. Well, he was to be a diplomatic agent. Now, I ask the House whether it was not the duty of Mr. Murray to select a more fit man to carry on our diplomatic relations with a governor, who, in all probability, was a member of the Royal Family, than one who had been the cause of a quarrel between ourselves and Persia, and through whom we had defied the Persian Government? But I contend that we are not entitled to have a diplomatic agent at Shiraz, and that the Persian Government had a right to complain of the appointment made by the British Mission. By his third demand, Mr. Murray asked an apology from the Shah and 1718 his Prime Minister. Now, I do not say that he was not entitled to demand an ample apology from the Minister; I believe that unjustifiable expressions were used by that official with regard to Mr. Murray. But you cannot ask an apology from a King; it is lowering his dignity; and, in fact, you must assume the technical understanding that the Minister is responsible for the acts of the King, and be content with his explanation and apology. Moreover, if we fairly consider the question, we shall see that the King was not so much to blame after all. I do not say—far from it—that his insinuations against Mr. Murray were justifiable; but when he heard that this lady was demanded by the British Mission, at the very moment that her husband was being sent away to Shiraz, it was natural, and in accordance with what we know of Eastern feeling, that he should arrive at conclusions prejudicial to the character of Mr. Murray, and that he should express those conclusions in offensive insinuations. But the most important part of the affair is this, that in order to support the ultimatum of our representative, we have already entered upon the first steps of a war against Persia. If that be true—and I fear it is so—then I hope the House and the country will protest against such a perversion of justice. I have heard men in authority say that, although the demands of Mr. Murray were hardly justifiable, yet we are dealing with an Eastern nation, and having commenced the quarrel we must carry it out; for if we were to withdraw, it would be fatal to our influence. Now, as an Englishman—as a Member of this House—as one who has had some experience in Eastern affairs—I solemnly protest against that doctrine. I believe it to be false; I believe it to be one which has led us into innumerable difficulties in the East; I believe it to be one which has ruined our national character among Eastern nations, and led to the infliction of acts of intolerable injustice in India. I have had as much experience as most men in these matters, and that experience has been acquired not by holding official positions, but by travelling alone, without friend or servant, in Eastern countries. I claim no merit for that, because anybody in my position might have done the same; but I believe I have succeeded in most of my undertakings, by always doing that which I thought just and right, and by acting up to it at all risks. The moment an Eastern finds you 1719 to be a man of honour he respects your character, but the moment he proves you to be unjust he loses all confidence in you. I believe that the great influence which is attached to the British name in the East is entirely owing to the character which we acquired some years ago for honesty and uprightness. Let us take care how we trifle with that character. But there is another question to which I wish to call the attention of the House. If we enter into a war with Persia, upon whom will the weight fall? Why, upon those miserable men, our fellow-subjects in India, who are already bowed down to the dust by taxation. But is this a moment to make an enemy of Persia? Suppose that by sending a fleet to Bushire you compel Persia to yield in a quarrel which is without justice or right on our side, do you think that the Persians will ever forgive you for it? No! You will lay the foundation for a feeling of enmity which will never be removed. Let me call the attention of the House to our position in Asia. If, by the present conferences, peace can be obtained consistently with the honour and dignity of this House, I trust we shall have peace, but in that case what is to be expected? We are told that Russia, has given up all schemes of aggrandisement, and that she will now turn her attention to internal improvements; but no man who knows the character of the Russian nation would believe that Russia, would in one day give up the policy which for more than a century has been the great aim of the Russian race. It is true that Russia may for a time abstain from aggrandisement; when she has fully developed her resources, and has railways all over the empire she may then again defy the whole of Europe, though not till then. On the European side of Russia, therefore, we may expect that for some time there will be tranquillity; but is that likely to be the case on the Asiatic side? Russia owes us a grudge, and she will revenge herself in Asia. So far as Russia and this country are concerned, the result of the last campaign is rather favourable than otherwise for Russia in Asia. It may seem a paradox, but nevertheless it is strictly true, that the fall of Sebastopol is of less importance to Russia than the fall of Kars is to us. I do not believe that in the centre of Asia the people ever heard of Sebastopol; the name is almost unpronounceable by them. It is not in their way, and they know nothing about it; but 1720 the name of Kars is known all over Asia. And what has happened there? The place has fallen, and an English general has been made a prisoner, and paraded through Georgia and the Asiatic provinces of Russia. The news of these circumstances has, as a matter of course, spread all over Asia, and we may be sure that Russian agents will take care to magnify the importance of their victory. Within the last few days an account has been published, taken from the Russian papers, of the events which have occurred at Herat; and the Russians are now endeavouring to make the Persians believe that that is a quarrel between us and them. I received a private letter a few minutes ago from a person well acquainted with Central Asia, showing how dangerous is our position in that part of the world, and that many weeks may not elapse before, aided by the Russians, the Persians might extend their invasion beyond Herat. I am not an alarmist, I am not one of those who dread an invasion of India by Russia; but Russia, by moving the Powers in Central Asia, might create such a state of things as would oblige us to maintain there an amount of troops which would injuriously increase the weight of taxation and keep up a continual excitement in India. Thus all projects for the good of India in the shape of railways, roads, canals, and other works, would either be abandoned altogether or indefinitely postponed. And you are now going, by this foolish quarrel, to throw Persia into the arms of Russia, making her possibly a participator in the quarrel, and having both Persia and Russia for ever after our enemies in the East. That Russia, who at this moment I have heard is making a movement amongst the Christian population of Kurdistan, would be but too happy to avail herself of the opportunity, there can be but little doubt, whenever she can do so with advantage. If we have a war with Russia in Central Asia we cannot go to France or Austria (supposing the present negotiations result in peace), and say, "Help us." "No," they would very naturally say, "that is your I affair; that is a matter referring entirely to your Indian empire; we have nothing to do with it, you must fight it out yourselves." If two years ago Ministers had taken steps by sending a force to Persia, to enable her to act with us against Russia, the case would have been very different. That might have been a fair matter of debate; but now to send a force against Persia 1721 upon such a quarrel as this, will be to destroy British influence in Central Asia altogether. I believe the present Government have really the interests of England at heart, and I entreat them not to give way to any pressure, come from whatever quarter it may, to precipitate this country into a needless and an unjust war. There are still means of getting out of the difficulty—not by arbitration, for I think it will be as fatal to refer this dispute to the arbitration of France as it will be to send an expedition to Bushire. I shall not explain what my plan is, because I know it would not then be adopted. I shall leave it to the sagacity of the noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston) to discover it, but I entreat the noble Lord to consider well before he plunges this country into a war which may be followed by the most prejudicial consequences. It is not too late to countermand the expedition, and I urge upon the noble Lord to do so, and to consider whether some means may not be found for bringing the quarrel to a peaceful issue.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
Sir, the course which has been adopted by the hon. Gentleman who has just resumed his seat, is not, I must say, the best adapted to promote the interests of this country. When questions of a difficult nature have arisen between the Government of this country and a foreign Government, I think that nothing can be less conducive to the interests of this country than for any Gentleman—whatever may be his talents, or his means of acquiring information with regard to the quarter of the world in which the difference has arisen, but which information must necessarily be, as the hon. Gentleman has himself shown, imperfect as to the facts of the case—to get up, as he has done, and pronounce unhesitatingly that the Government of this country is wrong and that the other Government is right, and thus create additional obstacles to the amicable adjustment of the question at issue. Of course when the foreign Government with whom the difference has arisen finds that persons in this House, who from their general character and knowledge are entitled to respect, broadly pronounce an opinion in favour of the other Government, and against the Government of their own country, it is manifest that any accommodation of such differences must be rendered infinitely more difficult than if a discreet silence had been observed. I shall not so far follow the example of the hon. Gentleman as to go into an 1722 argumentative discussion upon this question; but I must set right some of the statements which he has made with regard to the transactions to which he has alluded. This Mirza Hashim, then, was undoubtedly in the civil service of the Persian Government. He was, as he considered, dismissed from that service; that is to say, he applied for an increase of salary, and the Persian Minister for Foreign Affairs refused to give him any increase, and said, "If you are not satisfied with what you have from the Government, go wherever you can, and get employment elsewhere, if you can do so on satisfactory terms." This man conceiving—and I think he was justified in so thinking—that that was a dismissal from the Persian service, went (as is customary in cases where a person is in fear of persecution from the Persian Government), and took sanctuary in the British Mission. That was before Mr. Murray arrived, and during the time Mr. Thompson acted as Chargé d'Affaires. The hon. Gentleman says, and with truth, that it is a very objectionable practice, that in any State the subjects of that State should be entitled to withdraw themselves from the jurisdiction of their own Government by taking refuge within the precincts of a foreign mission. Why, nothing in point of principle and practice can be more objectionable; but that happens to be the custom in Persia; not that the custom was introduced by the French or British Mission, but it has been of long standing, is recognised by all foreign missions, and is fully acknowledged by the Persian Government as being, I will not say a legitimate or legal right, but a right to which the Persian Government are not entitled to object, and which has been acquiesced in by them time out of mind with regard to all foreign nations. Well, this Mirza Hashim being under the protection of the British Mission, Mr. Murray arrives at Teheran, and decides that in consequence of the ill-will which the Persian Government felt towards the individual, it would, as he thought, be better that he should be removed from Teheran and employed elsewhere. He, therefore, proposed to send him to Shiraz. The hon. Gentleman, (Mr. Layard) says the British Government, had no right to employ a consul at Shiraz; but they have for a long course of time been in the habit of having an agent at Shiraz, who was employed for commercial and other purposes, who was not connected with the Commission as 1723 consul, but was nevertheless acknowledged as the resident agent of the British Government. Well, Mr. Murray proposed, really with the view of conciliating, to employ this Mirza Hashim at Shiraz; but the Persian Government declared, that if he quitted the precincts of the mission, he should be arrested. Against this Mr. Murray remonstrated, contending that protection did not cease with the limits of the mission, but would equally apply to the man at Shiraz as well as at Teheran. But whilst the question was being discussed, the Persian Government seized the wife of this Mirza Hashim. But this lady was not, as the hon. Gentleman states, a relation of the Royal Family of Persia. If I understand the matter rightly, she is simply a relation of one of the many wives; of the Shah: she is, therefore, only a connection, not a relation, of the Royal Family. Now, the principle of protection has always been considered, and properly and necessarily considered, as extending, not merely to the person of the protected individual, but to everything that belongs to him. [Mr. LAYARD: No, no.] I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon, it has always been taken to extend to his property and his family. Mr. Murray, therefore, demanded that the lady should be, not given up to the British Mission, as the hon. Gentleman has stated, but restored to her husband, and remain with him, whether he continued at Teheran or went to Shiraz. Well, this demand gave rise to a correspondence, in the course of which, as the hon. Member has acknowledged, very improper letters were written by the Persian Minister—utterly unbecoming and very insulting letters—and, I am sorry to say, that the Shah also joined unnecessarily in the correspondence, and did not appear to have studied his phrases in the pages of the Persian Polite Letter Writer, if such book there be. In short, his letter was not couched in the dignified style that might have been expected from the occupant of a throne. Mr. Murray made certain demands, and the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Layard) says he demanded an apology from the Shah. The hon. Gentleman is quite mistaken. He certainly did require that the impolite letter which the Shah had written should be withdrawn, and be considered as non-avenu. But this was refused, and the refusal induced Mr. Murray to strike his flag, the usual proceeding when a difference arises; and next to withdraw from Teheran and go to Bagdad. 1724 As I said previously, I am not going to enter into the argument as between the two Governments, because it would be improper so to do, whilst the questions are still pending. But the hon. Gentleman says we are now at war with Persia. Now that happens not to be the case. What has taken place is, that Mr. Murray foreseeing that the violence of the Persian Government might lead them to molest the British residents at Bushire, has written to the Government of Bombay to request that two small vessels might be sent to the Persian Gulf, not for the purpose of commencing hostilities against Persia, but to give protection, if necessary, to the British residents there. That is the real state of the case. The matter is still pending between the two Governments; and I really think that no good will arise from prematurely bringing it under discussion in this House. The hon. Gentleman has stated that which is perfectly true, that in a war between this country and Russia, Persia might under certain circumstances have been an important element either in our scale or in the scale of Russia; but I cannot say that he has shown any great political sagacity in stating that the wise course for us to have followed two or three years ago would have been to send out an expedition to India for the purpose of compelling Persia to take part with us against Russia.
§ MR. LAYARD
I merely said that it was a debatable question whether or not it would have been the wisest course.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
And very debatable too. The policy of making war upon a friend in order to compel him to make war upon a third party is a course that would be very debatable indeed on one side, but not so on the other. Sir, it was not the course which Her Majesty's Government thought would be expedient. On the contrary, considering the position of Persia—considering her close proximity to Russia, her distance from this country, her relative weakness, and that she could not embark in a war with Russia without great assistance from us, both in troops and money, it appeared to us that it would be wiser to encourage Persia to maintain a neutral position, and not to commit herself to hostilities with Russia at a moment when it would not have been easy or convenient for us to afford her the assistance and protection which she would be entitled to expect in such a case. Under these circumstances, I really do hope that the 1725 House will not pursue a discussion on the unfortunate difference that has arisen between this country and Persia. I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman that in dealing with these Asiatic countries it is of great importance to see that you are right, and not endeavour to put upon them any wrong; but, on the other hand, nobody knows better than the hon. Gentleman that nothing answers less, in dealing with those Asiatic countries, than to allow them to treat you with insult and indignity.