§ Motion made, and Question proposed [29th June], "That a sum, not exceeding £38,737, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1915, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Department of His Majesty's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs."
§ Question again proposed. Debate resumed.
Sir GILBERT PARKER
I wish to raise a point of Order. There is no representative of the Foreign Office present, although we are about to discuss the Foreign Office Vote. I understand also it is not the intention of the Foreign Minister to be present, and, if that is the case, it seems to me that this House should not proceed further to discuss the Vote, because a greater humiliation could scarcely occur to this House than that, on so important an occasion, the head of the Department whose administration is under discussion should not be in attendance. I, therefore, propose to move the Adjournment.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Illingworth)
May I explain that the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs is momentarily detained at the Foreign Office, but he will be here almost immediately.
Mr. GEORGE LLOYD (Staffordshire, W.)
I understand that some time during the Debate to-day the commercial side of Foreign Office work is likely to be discussed, and, therefore, in the remarks I am going to make, I shall not attempt to deal with certain rather tempting aspects of the work which the Foreign Secretary has to do. But I want to touch on the broader aspects of the duties of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in regard to the large commercial interests of this country over which he has, or could have if he chose, a 1384 great deal of influence. I do not want in the criticisms I am going to make to-day to suggest that the right hon. Baronet has been very negligent in regard to the commercial interests of this country abroad; but I think it is fair to point to the general results of his policy with regard to the acquisition of big commercial contracts and undertakings, many of which cannot be secured by the most enterprising country, or the most intelligent traders without the diplomatic assistance of the Foreign Office and the Foreign Secretary. I think it can be shown that we have suffered in comparison with other foreign countries very severely indeed during the last two or three years, and if the dictum of the Under-Secretary for India, which he laid down the other day in answer to a question, that British traders can look after them selves—
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for INDIA (Mr. C. ROBERTS)
What I said was that British traders were in a position to look after themselves.
I do not see any substantial difference made by that explanation. If that were unfortunately the policy of the Foreign Office, which I am glad to think it is not, instead of being the policy of the hon. Member opposite, the circumstances I am going to detail would not surprise anyone in this country. I will not take, as examples of my thesis, countries like Morocco, where France or other Powers have special advantages and admittedly special claims to everying going in that country. I would rather take countries that are purely neutral fields for all enterprise, both British and foreign, and where the right hon. Gentleman should have succeeded, in comparison with other nations, in securing for our traders at least equal advantages to those secured by other countries. It is rather important here, if the House will allow me, to point out that in those countries where the provision of finance is not followed by orders for British material, such as in Russia, to whom millions of this country's money has been sent, and very properly sent, in the last few years, we are most successful; but in those countries where the provision of finance is not followed, and never has been followed, but where it should be followed by orders for material in the country which provides the finance, we have been peculiarly unsuccessful. Where we have provided money, and no money 1385 is being used for British trade, we have been successful; but in those countries where it is the practice that orders should be given to those supplying the money, we are not successful. Some lessons should be learned from that. Take the Turkish Empire itself, where the material is obtained almost always from the nation financing that country, and where those concerned reap industrial as well as financial benefit from the interest they take in that country—in those fields I think—and in this the Committee will agree with me—we have in the last two or three years lost the most ground. I do not want to put the case too high. In the last few years all Turkey in Asia has been opened up and has been a battle-ground for railway expansion. All foreign countries have been seeking and doing their utmost, in a legitimate manner, to secure for themselves and for their enterprise the right to expand and to open up these vast territories, whereby they will gain orders for their industries at home and reap other advantages locally, industrially and financially. What laurel has our Foreign Minister to add to his brow in these Turkish regions? It ought to be a much easier task for our Foreign Secretary to do well in Turkey or in any other country in respect of commercial bargaining, because, after all, we treat Turkish trade better than any other country; we give them great advantages which should make negotiations for substantial advantages in return much easier for the right hon. Gentleman than for any other Foreign Minister in Europe.
We are the oldest trading country with Turkey. We were earlier established in the Levant than any other country in the world, and there we have every reason to expect—especially from the manner in which we treat Turkish trade and because of our historic associations with that country—that we should have a very fair share in all the expansion, railway and otherwise, that is going on. But that is not the case. If you take the North of Turkey, you will find that the proposed Samsoum-Sivas Railway and, in fact, that all the Northern railways have gone either to Russia or to Germany. Yet we have big interests there. We have the Trebizond Road, which was practically exclusively used by British traders for the transport of cotton goods from our shipping in the Black Sea to the Northern Persian markets. Even on that Trebizond Road, where we might have reasonably hoped to 1386 get some concessions, we have got nothing. It might be said that the Foreign Secretary could not be expected, under modern political conditions in Northern Turkey, to get them, but if you come South you find that Germany has the only big railway conceded in recent years. In Southern Anatolia we had a concession for the Smyrna-Aidin Railway, which we are now, I believe, going to share with the Italians. We have not improved our position in regard to that railway. If you come to Syria, what a starting off ground four our Middle East position! Even since the days of Chesney, who made the first survey for a trans-continental railway there, we have had the first claim on railway expansion. We find that the whole of Syria is a network of railways, which have been conceded quite recently, and since the right hon. Gentleman has been in office. The whole network of new railway construction in Syria, where we are a protecting Power in one respect and have similar advantages to the French, has been acquired entirely by the French, and we have got nothing at all in an area where we had every right and reason to expect that we should be successful for our traders.
That possibly extends down to the Egyptian frontier. I do not know whether that is so, and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will be able to inform me on that point when he answers. So far as my information goes, there is even a prospect that the French railway will be conceded right up to the Egyptian frontier, and down to Gaza. I believe that has been frustrated, and that the railway is not coming quite so near as the Egyptian frontier. Can you conceive any other country which has a right to railway expansion south of Jerusalem to Gaza, towards the Egyptian frontier? Yet even there, as far as my information goes, we have been entirely unsuccessful in getting the very moderate claims we might have with regard to railway enterprise in Southern Syria. I think that is very unfortunate. I do not know what the reason for it is, whether it is that the Foreign Office, which of all our British Departments is probably, on the whole, the most successful if you make comparisons, either has out-of-date methods, or does not move until it is pushed at the last moment to take a really keen interest in the acquisition of big concessions and big matters of this kind. But certain it is that when we speak to those concerned in 1387 enterprise, they will tell you that the Foreign Office generally moves rather too late. I think there is some truth, though rot all the truth, in those remarks. At any rate, it is a perfectly fair criticism to make with regard to the right hon. Gentleman's administration, economically, in Middle Asia. I do not think he can claim any laurels at all with regard to any fresh enterprise. Hundreds of thousands of miles have been given, but we have not got a single mile in the whole of the Near East to show as the result of the last seven or eight years' work. We do not know very much about the Anglo-German Agreement.
We do not pretend to know very much about that agreement, which has been made in the last few weeks, nor do I think that the hon. Member who interrupted me could add very much to our information in that respect. But we have been told sufficient to make us realise that we have not got any substantial advantages of an economic character out of the Anglo-German Agreement—that is to say, we have got one director on the board of the railway, we have got a Harbour Board, on which we shall probably have some majority, but we have not added a single mile of railway construction which would give an extra day's work or wages to any workmen in this country by reason of anything the right hon. Gentleman has done with regard to the Anglo-German Steamer and Railway Agreement. We maintain, in a greatly impaired position, the steamship service we have had for a great many years. We are not getting greater facilities for transport, and we have not secured any greater advantage, although we had in that part of the world a singular and remarkable position. The right hon. Gentleman has not succeeded—perhaps he will tell us why—in getting for our traders or our industries a single concession or a single thing that will give employment to any of our workpeople at home. As I conceive the duties of the right hon. Gentleman, and as such duties are understood in every part of the world, under modern conditions it forms part of the duties of the Foreign Secretary to give assistance and facilities to traders in enterprise of this kind. I think I have shown conclusively that we have gained nothing anywhere West of 1388 Persia. Let us come to Persia for a moment, and see what we have gained there. We have been asking many questions for many years about the Mohammerah-Khoramabad Railway, which both on commercial and political grounds the right hon. Gentleman had practically pledged himself to push on and to assist in every possible way. We have not been given much information regarding the course of the negotiations. As I despaired of getting any answer across the floor of this House, I have waded through the last Persian Blue Book to find out what I could about this railway. Anyone who is interested in the negotiations which have taken place will do well to read what has happened between ourselves and Persia with regard to the Mohammerah-Khoramabad Railway.
I do not for one moment accuse the Foreign Office of being unbusinesslike as a general rule. I know that over this railway there have been many difficulties but no one can possibly read the records such as they are—there may be others which are not published—of the negotiations with regard to that railway without feeling that the Foreign Office has come very near being extraordinarily unbusinesslike in their methods. On 3rd December, 1912, Sir Walter Townley, our Minister, reported that the Persian Government had stated that the concession for this railway was then, after much negotiation, practically granted. In fact I think he put it more strongly. Anyone reading the Blue Book would come to the conclusion that in his opinion, as he was reporting then, he had practically got the concession in his pocket. Many weeks passed after this and nothing resulted. When the Foreign Office which was being pressed by Persia in company with Russia, both Russia and ourselves being presed for another loan, the Foreign Office observing that the Russians had made as a condition of that loan the granting of a railway concession in the North, the Julfa-Tabriz Railway, seemed by the correspondence to have followed Russia in this matter, and to have practically made the same conditions about the Mohammerah-Khoramabad Railway as Russia in the North had made about the Julfa-Tabriz Railway. It is clear that Russia said, "You shall not have the money unless we get the Tabriz concession signed first; and the right hon. Gentleman practically said, "You shall not have the money which you want, unless first of all we get this concession signed 1389 for the Mohammerah-Khoramabad Railway. That sounded very nice, but if you read a little further you will find that the net result of this transaction was that Russia got the railway and paid the money, and we paid the money and did not get the railway. There is a big difference. I am not at all in favour of using demands for loans of a national character as a leverage for concessions. I do not think it is a good policy. I do not think we ought to imitate Russia in that matter, however successful she has been. But at any rate if you decide to do it do not fail in doing it, because you get all the stigma and you do not get the railway, and this is what happened to the Foreign Secretary over the Mohammeraih-Khoramabad Railway. I should like to ask him what is the position with regard to the only railway laurel be could possibly hope to have gained: whether we have actually got the concession or not, if not, when we hope to get it, and why if it was virtually made a condition—I cannot read the correspondence, nor can anyone without coming to the conclusion that it was made practically conditional on the loan—why was it that while Russia got the railway in the North, we failed to get it in the South? We should like to know whether that is still the position with regard to this railway, or whether the concession is actually in our hands and when construction may be expected to commence, and so on.
Then there is another point on which no criticism can so far be made, and I hope none will be made for the moment until we have more information with regard to the Trans-Persian railway. The right hon. Gentleman has been asked several times as to whether he would, in any negotiations between the Société d'Etudes and the Persian Government—that is, in any three-cornered negotiation between ourselves, Russia and Persia with regard to the Trans-Persian railway—make it a condition of our co-operation that there should be a break of gauge somewhere in Central Persia or on the Indian frontier. I think, possibly, some of these questions were put to the right hon. Gentleman by hon. Members who had the strategic more even than the commercial point of view in their minds at the time. Of course, the strategical arguments are perfectly obvious as to why a break of gauge in the North on a railway from India into Central Persia might be recom- 1390 mended, but the commercial argument which I recommend to the attention of the right hon. Gentleman is, I think, more important even than the strategical argument. I lay very little stress upon the value of a break of gauge between India and Persia on purely military grounds. Experience in the South African war and elsewhere showed that there is not a great deal of advantage in that, but, commercially, there is every advantage, and we want to assure to our traders in India the same opportunities for recovering a position which has been jeopardised and, to a certain extent, lost in Southern and Central Persia recently by giving facilities for a railway which, whilst it will carry British and Indian goods with greater facility and precision into Central Persia, will not at the same time give greater facilities still under the subsidised State railway system which Russia has southwards, and which will not put our goods into competition and give still greater facilities to Russia to penetrate further South than the central markets she has now reached. But, as I thought the right hon. Gentleman said the other day that he was not pressing for a break of gauge—I do not recollect the exact words, but that is my impression—I think he ought to tell us why, because, commercially speaking, there is every advantage in it to our traders, and I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that if you asked Indian or Persian Gulf traders or British or Manchester traders what their views with regard to this question were, anyone with any experience of the trading in this part of the world would tell you that there was every advantage in having the break of gauge, which we on this side of the House so very much desire.
I have reviewed what we have not gained in the Middle East. Now let us come to the Far East. Whilst the position there is not quite so serious, I think there is still ground for a great deal of anxiety and criticism. We have seen, in the last few years, the whole of Manchuria and China being opened up to foreign railway enterprise. With the big advantages of production which this country is alleged to possess in virtue of its free markets and its purchasing facilities, with low paid labour and predominant transport facilities, one would have thought the right hon. Gentleman would have a far easier task than anyone else who is seeking to get commercial concessions out of the Chinese Government. We put practically 1391 no duties on Chinese exports. We have treated China in every way, both as regards opium and in other ways, with peculiar generosity and fairness. That cannot be said of other nations to the same extent in dealing with China. Therefore, the Foreign Secretary ought to have an advantage in negotiation, and to have had a singular advantage in quotation. You would have thought that the combination was irresistible, and we ought to have swept the board. The fact is not so. Other nations, handicapped as everyone on that side of the House will admit they are by a system which makes it more difficult for them to compete with us in the acquisition of these concessions in railway considerations and the production of staple material, and with the perpetual reproach which China made against them, "You treat our exports with a huge tariff and do not give us any chance"—you would not have thought that any other nation could have stood a chance with us in negotiations for what was going in China. Take areas in China—I exclude Manchuria and Shantung, where in the one case Russia and in the other Germany has admittedly a special position.
Take even our own areas where we admittedly have special claims which are admitted by other countries, such as the Yangtse Valley. It will be remembered by everyone that in 1905 there was concluded a simple agreement to which the Foreign Office was a witness; it took note of the agreement. It was an agreement literally with the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, by which it was admitted by our trade rivals in those areas that in return for keeping out of certain areas in China we were to be put in a privileged position in the Yangtse Valley for the purpose of expansion and other matters. As regards commerce, there was to be a special field for British enterprise. There is no doubt about that. It was a perfectly clear agreement, and it seems to me that, as the Foreign Office was a witness to it, it was the duty of the Foreign Office to see that the Yangtse Valley Agreement was respected by the parties who put their hands to it. That is common sense, and it is obvious to everybody. The point is: Did the Foreign Office see that the Yangtse Agreement, in return for the self-denying ordinances we entered into in regard to other matters in China, was observed by the other parties? I think it is clearly shown that the agreement was not 1392 observed. That is regrettable, and it is ground for criticism. The Foreign Office seem to have made no effective protest as regards the Yangtse Valley, or, if any steps were actually taken, none of them have been really effective. Of course, it is not a question of debate at all. According to the agreement the Germans were given the right in the Yangtse Valley to build the Ichang Lautiokow Railway, and it is now under construction. Russians and Belgians equally have the right to come down the Yangtse Valley to Chiengtu, and the French, who are not concerned at this particular moment, have yet got, as hon. Gentlemen may remember, rights to build a railway from Haiphong to Yunnan. The French, in addition, have now got a concession to build a railway from Yunnan to Chiang King, which is beginning to be of great interest in Burma. The railway from Hong Kong to Yunnan is a very important line indeed. They therefore go into the Yangtse Valley by a prolongation of the railway. In regard to the latter line—though of this I am not sure, not being in a position to know—I believe we made a Treaty in 1896 by which we were to share with the French the railway rights in Yunnan and Shantung. If that is the case, and if in virtue of that agreement we do so share these railway rights, I wish to know whether or not the Foreign Office has protested as regards the acquisition by France of Treaty rights in which we ought to share. If we do not share them, what have you got for the position which France has made for herself in that area?
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will excuse me if in this matter I have made any unfair suggestion, but it is impossible for us to know accurately the real facts. It is a difficulty which always occurs in dealing with this matter to know what is going on. We cannot be expected to be in close touch with the information, because we have no means of getting it. But so far as logic and reason can show us what is happening, I have stated what I feel, and also what is felt by those who know China far better than I do with respect to this matter. That is the whole story which I venture to put before the whole Committee as an example that the Foreign Office is not giving active and close assistance of British traders. In the old days it was not necessary to call attention to such matters. Now it is a great international 1393 battle for the industries and the markets of the various countries in which the Foreign Secretary must take part. If we fall behind in the race, so surely will our industries suffer, our trade expansion will be retarded, and the wages of our workers must be severely injured. I know the reply which the right hon. Gentleman might make, but I dare say he will not make it. He might very properly say, "Yes, in all these matters you are touching very high politics, and when you are apparently only dealing with railways and railway expansions you are touching the fringe of big international disputes, quarrels, and rearrangements, with respect to boundaries, and so on, and we are bound to look in the interest of peace at the big European arrangements, compared to which these railway questions and these commercial points are really details. We have got to take the most important. For instance, we would rather have a Russian entente than gain in a railway in central Asia. That is a big point which, so far, has not carried us far. But there is no skill in buying the inception concession, or renting the continuance of friendly relations with any Power by the cession of British commercial interests. You do not get good relations in that way. In my opinion you get good relations rather by friendly rivalry in trade and other things, and, to use a phrase which may not be proper in this House by "keeping your end up," as one would colloquially put it, in trade matters, as well as in political matters, wherever we meet Russia, Germany, or any other nation. Any sale of the present or of the future, or any giving way on these matters will lead to far more bitter difficulties than those which exist to-day. To refrain from getting all we can for our traders is, I think, not good policy, and it is one which, I hope, the right hon. Gentleman may give us a little more information about.
The hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir G. Parker) was indignant just now because the Foreign Secretary was two or three minutes late in taking his seat. I think my right hon. Friend knowing that the Opposition have asked for the Foreign Office Vote to be put down again must have been very much surprised that there should be an attendance of exactly half a dozen Members on the benches opposite. For my part I am extremely glad that this additional opportunity has been given for discussion, because I think it would have been nothing 1394 short of a scandal if the foreign affairs of the British Empire had been allowed to be relegated to four and a half hours' discussion during the course of this year. We have to-day a further opportunity of asking questions and expressing our views on the foreign situation. I desire to dwell on one particular point and also on one general point. With regard to Persia I followed with the greatest interest the speech made by my right hon. Friend in the Debate that took place about a fortnight ago. I was very glad to notice from that speech that he has come to realise that our position in Persia is one that must be reviewed. As my right hon. Friend said, what we desire is that the Anglo-Russian Convention should not be allowed to diminish the independence and integrity of Persia more than it has been. We can understand from that that he has fears that the Anglo-Russian Convention is at present being interpreted in such a way as to impair seriously the integrity and independence of Persia. But the most important passage in his speech was that in which he confessed that the situation was at present working to our disadvantage.
On 27th June a Memorandum was drawn up by the Persian Government and presented to the British and Russian Legations. In this Memorandum attention is called to the existence of disorganisation, especially in the province of Azerbaijan, by the interference of the Russian Consular authorities. I asked my right hon. Friend a question on that point a few weeks ago, and he said that he was making inquiries and would be able to make a further statement later on. The Memorandum then refers to the acquisition by Russian subjects of land in towns and outside towns in violation of the Treaty of Turkmanchai. I also called attention to this fact in a question, because the presence of the Russian troops in Northern Persia really is not such an effective means of gaining Northern Persia for Russia as this method of peaceful penetration which is being carried on against the treaty rights. The complaint is made in the Memorandum of the presence of Russian troops in Northern Persia and the territorial restrictions which it is sought to impose on the Swedish gendarmerie. I would like my right hon. Friend to tell us what reply has been sent to this Memorandum, because it puts the Persian grievances in a very succinct form, and I suppose that some answer must have been sent by both Governments.
1395 In reference to the negotiations with the Anglo-Persian Oil Company I would like to ask is there any truth in the rumour that already disturbances have broken out in the districts in which these oil-fields are situated? If so, what is the nature of these disturbances, and are they likely to be put down easily? Though I voted for the Government on this question, I have, as I have already stated, very grave misgivings that this part of the world should have been singled out for supplying a vital commodity to our Navy. It has undoubtedly increased our interest in the district. It has created a new vulnerable point in our foreign relations, and it has imposed on us fresh obligations and responsibilities. I asked on the last occasion whether Russia would demand a quid pro quo for this new departure in our subsidising the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. My right hon. Friend was inclined to regard that suggestion as ridiculous. Up to that time the Russian Press had been silent, but they have begun expressing opinions since then, and I see that opinion is formulating itself very much on the lines which I expected, and that they regard this as merely another form of penetration into Persia. In fact, the "Retch" refers to it in those terms, and says that Russians apprehend that it will place the neutral zone within the British sphere. We can see by that that Russian opinion is disturbed lest we should steal a march in Persia. Negotiations are, no doubt, extremely delicate, and I cannot say exactly where they will lead us. I sincerely hope that the outcome of such negotiations will not be a partition of Persia, and I hope so, not only from the point of view of Persia itself, but from the point of view which I have so often emphasised in this House of our international interests and our strategic position with regard to India.
I referred to some points of general policy on the Foreign Office Vote last year. My right hon. Friend on that occasion said that those large questions of policy could not be dealt with then. When are we to deal with large questions of policy? It seems to me that useful as it is to get information on specific points, and to get details of various negotiations which have been carried on through our Foreign Office in all the various parts of the world, it is necessary on these occasions that we should have a general review of how we stand. This affords an 1396 opportunity for the Foreign Secretary to make a pronouncement as to our general international attitude, and I think that the country expect it. They want to be told the broad lines, because uninformed as they are as to details, people do not follow with any great interest the different points which art brought up, but they will follow with the greatest interest any questions of general policy. That is why I venture to bring one up now. There is an impression that questions discussed in this House are the only questions of importance at the moment, and that if there is any question which is not discussed in this House it cannot be of any great importance. That is a most unfortunate impression, because it shows that people do not understand that we only discuss in this House questions upon which we are divided. If there is a difference of opinion between the Opposition and ourselves that question is discussed in season and out of season. But if there happens to be no party difference the question is not discussed, and the impression gains ground that it is not an important question. We find ourselves spending the largest sum of money in our history, or, in the history of the world, that has ever been spent by any country on the munitions of war. We find that the countries of the world are spending over six hundred millions a year on the same purpose, and yet the question is hardly ever referred to in this House, because there is no party difference of opinion upon it between the two sides of the House.
There is certainly no question, foreign or domestic, to-day, which can compare with the question of expenditure on arms and the limit to which it has reached. We have been accustomed to take the Debate on the Navy as our chief opportunity for making an attack, or criticism, on this point, but I have come to the conclusion that this is a far more suitable opportunity, because, after all, armaments and naval strategy depend upon policy. If they do not depend upon policy they ought to depend upon policy. That is where the trouble is now. The First Lord of the Admiralty has been criticised, although he has managed to get through the main part of his proposal, the largest in the history of this country, with very little really effective criticism, owing to the condition of party opinion on the question. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has also been attacked occasionally on this point. But my right hon. Friend the Foreign 1397 Secretary seems to me to have great responsibility in this matter, and that is why I think the Foreign Office Vote is the suitable opportunity to bring these matters forward.
A few years ago, as we know, there was a considerable state of tension in Europe. We were told that our relations with Germany were bad, and there was a general impression that at any moment hostilities would break out. As to what the reason of it was nobody was very clear, but there were expressions of opinion which showed us that was the fact. That was at the time when the policy of the balance of power in Europe was being very strongly supported—the policy of dividing Europe into two armed and hostile camps, regarding one another with suspicion. Then came the trouble in the Balkans and things changed. The policy of the balance of power was exchanged for concerted action among the Powers. A Concert of the Powers was set up, and although it is a very inadequate machine it has served its purpose by preventing a conflagration, while indirectly it brought about a very much better state of relations between ourselves and Germany. That is all to the good, and those improved relations are continued. The recent visit of the Fleet to Kiel shows how friendly the relations are between Germany and Great Britain. The relations between the British and German peoples have been nothing else but friendly, and the tension between the two Governments at the present moment is greatly relaxed. Let me say that we owe a deep debt of gratitude to the Foreign Secretary for this improvement, and we are very grateful to him for the way in which he has maintained peace so far as this country is concerned, during the eight years he has been at the Foreign Office. That fact is appreciated most deeply by everybody in this country. But why cannot we see some reflection of this policy in our armaments? If the expenditure on armaments had varied according to our diplomatic relations in various parts of the world, if it altered in relation to emergencies or periods of calm with regard to particular questions, then we should see some kind of relation between policy and armaments. But armaments have only shown one tendency, and that is to continue to mount up. It is not as if this policy was approved by His Majesty's Government; it is not as if we had not 1398 had most vehement denunciations of this policy from the most authoritative quarters. My right hon. Friend is responsible for a phrase which, since he uttered it, has been quoted up and down the country, and I dare say in other parts of the world as well. He said:—Sooner or later this expenditure will submerge civilisation and lead to national bankruptcy.The Chancellor of the Exchequer referred to it as "organized insanity," and the Prime Minister said:—I regret as much as any man this huge diversion of national wealth into unproductive channels.But words are all very well—the question I want to ask to-day is, What is being-done? Is anything being done—is any organised effort being made, and systematically followed in foreign countries, in order to get rid of this state of affairs, in order to prevent civilisation from being submerged, in order to have organised sanity instead of organised insanity, and in order to divert our national wealth into productive instead of unproductive channels? The Foreign Secretary, at Manchester, on 1st February, made a speech in which he said that he could then see very little light, and he added that in the course of the last few years he had made appeals to individual Ministers. I do not know what his appeals were. The only appeal I know is the very fantastic suggestion of naval holiday. I should like to dwell on that for a moment, as it is of practical relevance to this Debate. It was one of the inroads made by the First Lord of the Admiralty into the realm of foreign affairs. I always regret when the Minister of another Department makes an inroad into the realm of foreign affairs. I am satisfied that foreign affairs should be left solely in the hands of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. But this was a very disastrous inroad by the First Lord of the Admiralty into the realm of foreign affairs. He made a proposal to Germany for a year's shipbuilding holiday, into the exact merits of which I need not now enter, but which was very loosely thought out, and which did not ring at all true. He put it forward in the peroration of a party speech on some provincial platform. I want to know if that is the method of diplomacy we are going to adopt. I am not exaggerating when I say that that was how Germany heard it, because Admiral von Tirpitz, in referring to it, said:—Since what was said last year my colleague in England has also on the occasion of an election"—1399 In another translation it was referred to as some festive occasion—suggested that a shipbuilding holiday of a year should be introduced for the whole world. At least I have read this in the newspapers—further information about it I have not received.If that really is considered an appeal made in a responsible quarter for the reduction of armaments all I can say is the fewer appeals of that sort which are made the better. I return again to ask what is being done, and can nothing be done? Are we to adopt this fatalistic attitude of folding our hands and saying, "It is outside our power, we can do nothing, the mad competition must continue, there is nothing to be done." I do not for a moment expect universal peace or general disarmament, or even the reduction of armaments, nor do I expect anything to be done in a month or two. I know it must be a very long drawn out process, and a very delicate process to bring the Governments of Europe together to-day to envisage this question. If nothing whatever is being done, and if no effort is being made then we cannot wonder that the expenditure goes on mounting in every country. I see only in to-day's newspapers that there are projects of further increase in Germany. I cannot help remembering that we have led the way, and therefore the initial responsibility rests with us. I believe the people of this country are waiting for somebody in authority to represent them on this question. They are in favour of peace as the rest of the peoples of the world are now. They have come to the conclusion that there is no gain to them, and there is no gain to labour, and there is no gain in economic conditions and social reforms to be got by war. They want some authoritative voice to express their feeling's. They are waiting for somebody to speak, and I am convinced if some Minister, some Foreign Minister, in Europe, did voice those opinions he would have an enormous and very strong body of popular feeling behind him. I believe if the question of the energy we expend on the Army and on the Navy, on the War Office, and on the Admiralty, on war books, and on all the paraphernalia connected with national defence, or so-called national defence, were spent on some well-conceived effort to arrive at an agreement with the Powers, I believe a way might be found to lighten the intolerable burden which is crushing the people of the world. I would 1400 respectfully ask my right hon. Friend not again to say to me this is a large question of policy which cannot be considered to-day, and I would respectfully urge him to free his mind of the idea that there is anything inevitable about this mad competition, and I would most sincerely beg that he with his great power and influence and the great position which he has gained for himself in the Councils of Europe, should use his influence in season and out of season, to attempt the solution of a problem which may be fraught with difficulty, but which neither he nor anybody else in authority ought to admit for a moment is unsoluble.
§ Colonel YATE
The hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Ponsonby), at the commencement of his address, referred to the statement of the Foreign Secretary that the situation in Persia at present is working to our disadvantage. I must say I entirely endorse that and concur with it in every way, and when the right hon. Gentleman makes some proposal that the Russian Convention be reconsidered, I can only say I entirely concur with that too, for a more unfair and one-sided Convention I cannot imagine anywhere. The point on which I think the situation is especially working to our disadvantage at present is as to the question of the Trans-Persian railway. That was the point to which I was referring when the Debate was adjourned, and it is also the point the hon. Member for West Staffordshire (Mr. G. Lloyd) has just touched on. I think the Foreign Secretary will agree that the original aim and object, or, I may say, the main object, of the proposed Trans-Persian railway is the linking up of the Russian lines on the North with the Indian lines on the South, so as to provide through railway communication between Europe and India. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in reply to a question on 23rd June last, told us that there is under consideration at the present time an application for an option for a railway across Persia from the North to some point at or near the sea on the Persian Gulf in the South; and the Foreign Secretary endeavoured to separate this question of a railway across Persia from that of a railway linking up the railway system of India with that of Russia and Europe. It seems to me that those two questions cannot properly be considered independently. The chief advantage to be gained by us in any railway across Persia is direct railway communication between India and Southern Persia. I say it is of 1401 vital importance to our Indian trade with Persia that Indian goods going into Persia should be able to reach the interior of Persia without being subjected to the extra cost and delay entailed by the transhipment rendered necesary by a change of gauge of railway. It seems to me if this railway from the North which is now under consideration is to be continued on the Russian gauge to the coast at Bunder Abbas or any other port on the Persian shore of the Gulf, it will inevitably happen that when the linking up with India takes place British goods coming from India by rail will get no further than this Southern port in Persia, which possibly will be at least 350 miles from the most Southern limits of the Russian sphere, without having to be transhipped from Indian wagons to Russian wagons, and thereby entailing extra delay, and severely and unfairly handicapping the Indian trade. A railway built on the Russian gauge from the North of Persia right down to the boundary of the British sphere at or near the coast on the South will give a straight run for Russian goods all the way from Moscow and other Russian commercial centres right down to the British sphere in the South, and give enormous advantages for the distribution of Russian goods throughout the whole of Persia, and especially through the Southern portion of Persia, which is more immediately where our commercial interests are. Indian goods coming by rail from the South will be practically driven out.
I would therefore ask the Foreign Secretary to give India a definite guarantee that if the railway across Persia is not to be built on the Indian gauge from the limits of the Russian sphere at Ispahan or Yezd, that it shall be built on a Persian gauge, distinct entirely from both Russian and Indian, so that the two countries, both Russia and India, shall be treated fairly and equally in this matter. The House may not be aware that Russian railways have a 5-ft. gauge; Indian railways at Karachi have a gauge of 5 ft. 6 in.; English and most Continental railways have a guage of 4 ft. 8 in.; India also has a metre-guage railway of 3 ft. 3 in. If Russia insists that this Trans-Persian railway through Northern Persia shall have a 5 ft. gauge, England is bound to insist that the railway in Southern Persia shall be built on an Indian gauge. Otherwise an independent Persian gauge is the only solution of the difficulty. I ask the Foreign 1402 Secretary for a definite assurance that he will not give his assent to any railway on a Russian gauge being built down to the Persian Gulf. Our interests in the Persian Gulf have been steadfastly insisted upon by the Foreign Secretary, and they have been acknowledged by the Russian Government.
We have heard a great deal of talk of late about the neutral sphere in Persia. That is an absolute misnomer. The so-called neutral sphere is the one sphere in which British interests are concentrated. The British sphere is a wild, desert bit of country on the borders of Baluchistan, without any commercial interest whatsoever at present. All our British interests are in what is called the neutral sphere and in the trade routes leading up from the Persian Gulf through that neutral sphere. Our interests extend from Kishm, in the South-East, right up to Kasr-i-Shirin, in the North-West. This particular sphere is entirely covered by the Foreign Secretary's own declaration of the 29th August, 1907, regarding Great Britain's special interests in the Persian Gulf, attached to the Russian Convention of 1907. For these reasons I say that the representations of the Karachi Chamber of Commerce, claiming that the break of gauge between the Indian and the Russian railways should not be allowed to occur at any point south of the Russian sphere of interest, is a claim that cannot be contested. If the Foreign Secretary ignores that representation and permits a railway on a Russian gauge to be constructed from the North to the shores of the Persian Gulf he will deal a deadly blow at British and Indian commercial interests in Persia, and he will also fail to maintain the previous declarations of Lord Lansdowne and other British Ministers, which he said only the other day were still adhered to by His Majesty's Government. I maintain that if a railway on a Russian gauge is once admitted to a Persian port on the Persian Gulf, it will be the first step towards the Russification, and possibly the fortification of that port, which Lord Lansdowne himself declared would be such a grave menace to British interests that it would be resisted by all the means at our disposal. The right hon. Gentleman told us last year that the Agreement of 1890 regarding the right to the construction of railways by us in Southern Persia was still in force. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see that that agreement is rigidly maintained.
1403 Within the last few days we have heard a good deal about the island of Kishm. That island was formerly the headquarters of the old Indian Navy in the Persian Gulf. The old naval station at Bassidore still exists on the island of Kishm. The remains of the houses, the hospital, and the buildings connected with the Indian Navy are still standing there. As far as I know, Kishm has never been formally given over to Persia, and, to the best of my belief, it is just as much British territory at the present moment as the island of Ashurada, in the Caspian Sea, off the northern shores of Persia, is Russian territory. We are no more called upon to give the island of Kishm to Persia than Russia is called upon to surrender the island of Ashurada. In connection with this point I should like to call the Foreign Secretary's attention to the fact that it was to the old Indian Navy, with its headquarters in Kishm, we owe the peace, tranquillity, and absence of piracy in the Persian Gulf at the present time, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to take this opportunity of impressing upon his colleagues the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Secretary of State for India, the necessity of restoring the guns to the vessels of the Royal Indian Marine, to enable them to go on taking their share in the policing of the Persian Gulf and upholding British interests in that sea in the way that that service did in olden days. It was an insult to deprive these vessels of the guns with which they were formerly armed, and I trust there will be no further delay in restoring them. As to the policing of the trade routes through this sphere of British commercial interest in Southern Persia I am delighted to hear that the Swedish gendarmerie are making progress. I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said in appreciation of the good work done by these Swedish officers in the face of all difficulties. They came to Persia without any knowledge of the country, or of the language, or of dealing with Persian tribesmen, and the work they have done is deserving of every praise. But the Swedish gendarmerie cannot do everything, and the time has come when they should be backed up more than they have been. The Swedish gendarmerie have taken charge of the Bushire-Shiraz-Ispahan Road, and certainly that ought, to be left entirely under their charge. The other trade routes, though, are still unprotected, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider the question of 1404 lending British and Mahomedan officers from India to help the Persian Government to raise Persian levies amongst the tribesmen on the Baluchistan border to police the Bandar Abbas-Kirman road so that British goods may once more pass up that road in safety. Our merchants' caravans have been robbed on these roads time after time, and no compensation whatever has been given by the Persian Government. The right hon. Gentleman told us that they were to be compensated when the Persian loan came to be arranged, but nothing has been done yet. I trust that that is a point which the Foreign Secretary will take into consideration. The local tribesmen are, I firmly believe, the best people to enlist for the protection of our trade routes both in the East on the Bandar Abbas-Kirman side and on the West on the Muhamra-Schuster side, and if our trade is to have an equal chance with Russian trade, I think the Persian Government should give us some facilities for its protection. It is only by this means that we can really maintain the independence and integrity of Persia, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see to it that Persia is not allowed to fall for want of any help of this sort.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give some little information on the question of Thibet. Last year I urged the right hon. Gentleman to postpone the formal recognition of the present Government of China till some arrangement with Thibet had been brought about. I pointed out all the wrongs that had been done to Thibet by China, and how difficult it would be for us to obtain justice for Thibet unless we stood firm in this respect. The right hon. Gentleman refused to delay the recognition of the Chinese Government, and the result has been what I foretold. We have had a Joint Commission sitting at Simla, at Delhi, and at Simla again for over a year, but no settlement whatever has been come to. The latest information in the papers was that the Commission had broken up for good. Consequently, instead of simply refusing to recognise the Chinese Government, we shall have to take much more drastic measures. I hope that whatever drastic action is necessary, the right hon. Gentleman will not fail to take it. I hope he will give an assurance that the necessary action will now be taken, and that the rights due to Thibet and India will be secured to them without further delay. Another point that I 1405 raised last year was whether anything had been done to give our Consul at St. Petersburg the status of Consul-General and to make provision for the training of student interpreters for service as Consuls in the Russian Empire. At Constantinople we have a school for student interpreters in Turkey. Nothing of that has been done in Russia. The difficulties of the Russian language are just as great as the difficulties of the Turkish language. I hope that something can be done to found a school for Russian interpreters. My experience of the Consular service was not very long, only five or six years, and mostly in the East, but while I was in those countries I often talked over these matters, and the essential difference between our British service and the Russian service. My Russian colleagues told me that they had separate Consular services for East and West.
§ The CHAIRMAN
That is the subject-matter of the next Vote on the Paper. If hon. Members want to speak on the subject of the Consular services they must defer their remarks until this first Motion is disposed of. The Consular and Diplomatic Vote is put down next.
§ Sir J. D. REES
My hon. and gallant Friend who has just sat down referred to the desirability of establishing a class for the training of Russian interpreters. I do not know whether I may say so, but I am the only Russian interpreter in the House. My services were paid for, and were never made use of even for five minutes. It would be much better, perhaps, if the Government, instead of establishing schools for new men, used the men they have. The hon. Member for the Stirling Burghs commented on the short attendance on this side of the House. He forgot at the time, perhaps, that it was not solely interest in foreign affairs that accounts at the present juncture in public affairs for the full attendance of hon. Members opposite on a Friday. He raised again the question of disarmament. I could not help wishing that he and those who have the same views as himself would remember that it was only when Jerusalem was ruined, and Judah had fallen, that the proposition was made, that they should 1406 beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. I do not want to dwell upon that subject. I got up for a very different reason, but I do wish that they would realise that projects of that kind must end, like the powder which they dislike, in smoke. My objection to hon Gentleman and those with him is that they do not sufficiently repress what is really a very foolish manifestation, the gratification of which would be fatal to this country.
I have risen to call attention to a subject which has already been dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire with his usual ability. I will endeavour to confine myself to a few concrete cases, which I would like to bring before the notice of the right hon. Gentleman. Since comment has been made upon the matter, I should like to say that when I asked a question the other day, and asked the Under-Secretary whether he spoke for the right hon. Gentleman or not, there was not the slightest intention on my part of reflecting upon the Under-Secretary. Like his chief, and so far as I am concerned he has been most attentive and courteous, and quite satisfactory in his attitude in matters which I have brought before the House. As a different interpretation seemed to be given to it, I should like to say that. I should like to see the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary take the line as regards commerce in foreign affairs which was taken by the right hon. Gentleman whose death this House so deeply deplores, Mr. Joseph Chamberlain. I observe that the spirit which he breathed into the Colonial Office when he was Secretary of State for Colonial affairs, still survives, and if the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me—I I know it is regarded as a tactless thing to quote one Minister against another, but he knows that I have been a strong supporter of himself, both when I sat behind him and now before him, far more so than many of his own friends—I should like to quote words of the Colonial Secretary (Mr. Harcourt). They seem to be so wise that I venture to commend them to him as the spirit in which he might act at the Foreign Office. The Colonial Secretary said:—In these days the Colonial Office has more attributes of an immense trading and administrative concern than in those earlier days when it was a mere machine of Government.I will not waste time by quoting further I from the right hon. Gentleman's speech 1407 which is chiefly connected with the commerce which engages his attention. I want to ask the Foreign Secretary whether he will, as far as possible, adopt that spirit in dealing with that business which comes before the Foreign Office. My hon. Friend referred to the British position in the Yangtse Valley. No support is given to British merchants in the Yangtse Valley or in any other part of the British Empire so far as I know by the Foreign Office, which should make use of those very ships and armaments to which the hon. Gentleman objects. Our subjects should have that influence abroad which is due to the man who is the citizen of no mean Empire. There should be strength behind our traders, for the prosperity of our country is based upon trade and nothing else. I ask the Foreign Secretary to consider these matters, although the hon. Member opposite to me shows an indifference to trade, as his answer to me the other day indicated, which is only equalled by the active hostility of his colleague the Chancellor of the Exchequer. My hon. Friend quoted a question and answer. I put the question and received an extremely unsatisfactory answer from the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. C. ROBERTS
The hon. Member was referring to concessions in native States in India, and my reply to him was that under the circumstances British traders were in a perfectly satisfactory position. The hon. Member has no right to comment upon it in the way he is doing now.
§ Sir J. D. REES
I am afraid I must adhere to my view, notwithstanding what the hon. Gentleman says. I was British Resident in two of the native States, and I know something about it. I want to call attention to the fact that the Japanese Government, lately acquired an interest in the China Merchants Steam Navigation Company. The company has a charter that no foreigner may acquire any shares. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman will say, "How can I prevent the Japanese Government acquiring shares in trading concerns in China?" No doubt that is a very pertinent answer. Nevertheless, by the constitution of this company no foreigners are allowed to participate. We were the people to participate, if anybody, and not the Japanese, because we have a privileged position in the Yangtse Valley. The Under-Secretary said he was not aware how British interests could be 1408 assisted. That is my complaint. There should be some knowledge of how to assist British interests at the Foreign Office. Some pressure should be brought to bear upon the Chancellories of foreign countries, commensurate with the great armaments, great power, and great position of this country. Take another instance—that of the Standard Oil Company. It has concluded an agreement with the Chinese Republic—if it is a Republic—which excludes all foreigners for a year from all oil concessions in China.
That is a very large order. It seems to me a very strange inversion of what should be our position in China—that any company belonging to any other country but Great Britain should be able to make an agreement with the Chinese Government excluding all foreigners from all oil concessions in the whole of China for a whole year. Take another case. When the United States retired from the Loan Consortium of the Six Powers there was a favourable opportunity for Great Britain to assert the position which I say she is losing in China. It was not taken. When I put a question I was told that the other Five Powers had divided America's share. I know that it is exactly to that that I object. It is Great Britain that should have the lion's share of what was relinquished by the United States, and the answer only aggravates the offence. Then take the case of the recent railway concessions in China. There is the Kaomi-Hautschung Railway south-east from the frontier to Shantung. Shantung was understood to be the German sphere of influence. I cannot say that it is so expressed in any instrument, treaty or document, but it was always understood to be the case, and this is a new movement on the part of Germany in this direction. I am not satisfied, speaking for myself, and I do not think the British trade would be satisfied with the answer given to me on this subject. Take another case—and I am running through these concrete cases as quickly as I can—that of the Anglo-French Investment Company, asking for the good offices of the British Minister for the share and debenture holders as the management was passing out of British hands. I was told the Foreign Office could not interfere in matters like that. Other Foreign Offices do interfere; they recognise, and why should we not recognise, as we are the greatest of commercial countries, what 1409 other Foreign Offices recognise, that the advancement of the commerce of their country is the chief aim for which they exist. Why do we not acknowledge that I Take another case: the case of the French Banque Industrielle Loan of the China Merchant Steam Navigation Company transferring the Yangtse trade, not only to French but to French and German bottoms, Germany having a large interest in this line. I asked a question of the Under-Secretary and he did not know. The Foreign Office could not give me a satisfactory answer. This is a case in regard to an extremely important industrial enterprise on the Yangtse, and yet I could not get an answer.
Take the case of opium; the last day that a Debate took place upon that question the hon. Member for Radcliffe (Mr. T. C. Taylor) was allowed to give a long history of the opium trade. Far be it from me to attempt to do anyhing like that; but again with regard to the opium trade, our merchants, British-Indian, and Indian merchants, have been entirely neglected for the benefit of the faddists who treat opium as if it was some thrice damnable product, and was quite incapable of being devoted to any proper purposes. The real fact is that a strong, violent and unreasonable suppression of the sale of a drug which is of immense value in medicine and many other proper respects has led to an extreme development in the use of the deadly cocaine and the far more mischievous morphia, and we have driven the Chinese to execute their own cultivators for carrying on a cultivation immemorial in their country to which no possible objection could exist. The hon. Member for Radcliffe, in the hearing of the Foreign Secretary, actually took exception to the high profits the opium merchants were making. Since when has it become the duty of a Member of Parliament to object to British merchants making high profits, yet the representative of the Foreign Office did not rebuke the hon. Member who talked as if the suppression of opium was a matter of unbounded satisfaction, and as if no other question were worthy of immediate consideration. I am glad that the Minister for the moment representing the Foreign Office is the Under-Secretary of State for India, because I believe I shall be able, without being out of order, to refer to a speech made upon this subject by the Indian Finance Member in council upon this very matter when the Indian Budget was being 1410 debated in Calcutta, where, and not at Delhi, I am happy to say it is still being debated. The Minister said:—We are straightforward, but we cannot consent that in the guise of reform"—that all-atoning wordrevenue should be transferred from India to China without in any way benefiting China
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Mr. Maclean)
That is a matter for the Secretary of State for India, and not for the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
§ Sir J. D. REES
I shall leave the subject at once, but with great respect I was referring to the treatment of British-Indian merchants in China, and merely quoted this to show that the view taken by the Foreign Secretary is not the view held by a Minister who is more closely in touch than the Foreign Minister with these matters. I do think that the action of the Foreign Office in these matters has been a most ignominious surrender to the faddist, without the slightest regard for justice which should be done to other people engaged in a legal trade. I do not propose—it would not be right for me indeed—to dwell upon the extraordinary barbarity, cruelty and oppression to which the Chinese, in what is called the carrying out of this opium policy, have been driven to impose upon their subjects. There has been the shooting down of innocent people for no offence but the growing of the poppies. To my mind it is one of the most pitiable and terrible things, yet nothing touches the hearts of hon. Gentlemen who represent the opium faddist, but to force this policy upon the Foreign Office. The Secretary of State knows that not only is there a vastly greater sale of opium and cocaine, but also that smuggling from Persia has become a fresh trade in this country, and he must know that the poppy is grown freely in China at the present moment, and the reports that come home to this country that opium is no longer grown are mere eyewash. I do not wish to take up the time of the Committee, but I think that the aspect of the opium trade, which I bring before the House, is worthy of the attention of our Foreign Minister, whose duty it is to consider the interests of British trade quite as much as the benefits to a particular section of the people who press upon him the total suppression of a trade which they have been led to think is nothing but injurious, which is very far from being the case.
1411 I leave China, having given these concrete cases, and come for a moment to the general argument which was put forward by the hon. Member for Stafford on the question of Persia. I thoroughly agree with my hon. Friend behind me that it is a really serious matter that now we seem to be committed in principle, though I think the provision of the money will prove an obstacle constructing a railway of a gauge identical with the Russian gauge from the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf. That is really a more serious matter, and I associate myself entirely with the arguments used by my hon. Friend. I urge upon the Secretary of State that he should give this matter his best consideration for strategic reasons. As to trade, that railway will never pay, and I do not see its construction immediately in sight. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman opposite will ask the Foreign Secretary to let me know whether I am to understand that the decree of Nasr-ud-Din, the last Shah of Persia—who exercised supreme authority—that no other nationality, except Russia, could construct railways in Persia, was entirely abrogated by the Anglo-Russian Convention. I believe that to be the case, but I have not had it in so many words, and I should be grateful to know. I should like also to know what control we have of the Customs in South Persia, upon the security of which these loans are made. Is that security complete, and are not the debts secured upon those Customs rather larger than those Customs may suffice to secure? I should like to know something about that. Will the right hon. Gentleman also inform the House if it is true that the Imperial Bank of Persia has now ceased to honour the drafts of the Persian Government, and that the financial condition of that Government is almost hopeless?
The very best thing from a strategical, political, and commercial point of view that has happened since the Anglo-Russian Convention was concluded—which as a whole I support—is this Anglo-Persian oil contract, which will give practical effect to what is the real position, and that is that the trade interests of Great Britain are dominant all along the north of the Persian Gulf and in that area which was declared to be neutral, but is above all things British, if you are to consider the economic partition of the country. What we do want is not a political but an economic partition 1412 which will be just to this country, and which will recognise the position we have acquired by policing and pacifying the Persian Gulf and its coasts on both sides. This is only what is due to British trade, and I urge upon the Foreign Secretary, just as I did in regard to China, that he should do more to back up British interests than he has done before. With regard to what has been said about Kasr-i-Shirin, that it had been awarded to the Turks, I was informed that it was not true. I should like to know whether the twelve miles I find noted in my diary, which intervene between Kasr-i-Shirin and what was recognised as the Turkish border, has been awarded to Turkey by the Boundary Commission. If so, I can hardly believe, seeing what this district is and how famous it is in Persian politics, poetry, and many other respects, that the Persians would acquiesce in the transfer of that district to their hereditary enemies, the Turks. The Russian Government subsidised a line of fast steamers between Odessa and the Gulf. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman will ask how he can prevent that. I do not know how he can, but if the spirit which I have said should inform the Foreign Office and shape its policy had prevailed I doubt whether the Russians would have put on that service from Odessa. The fact that this has been done points the moral and lends additional force to the argument of my hon. Friend who has spoken on this side and to my own. I do not know whether it is within the spirit of the Convention that Russia should take this action, and although I am a friend of Russia I resent the officious objections taken to the presence of so many Russian troops in Persia. I think we might make friendly representations to the effect that this action on the part of Russia in the Gulf is hardly in accordance with the spirit of the Convention, and is not friendly, considering our position in the Persian Gulf, to which my hon. Friend' has sufficiently referred.
I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman a question similar to that which I have asked before. I want to press upon the Government that something should be done, if it can be done, and ether nations do such things, to ensure some consideration for British interests in Brazil. I notice that a loan is now to be raised for that country, and no doubt British money will be subscribed. British money in tens of millions has already been invested in Brazil, but I do not understand that the 1413 right hon. Gentleman is going to suggest to the Brazilian Government that if this loan is to be favourably received the least they can do is to carry out their obligations to British merchants in Brazil. I can give a case, chapter and verse, in which they most certainly have not carried out this policy. I believe the other Powers interested in Brazil, directly or indirectly, have taken action to this effect, and I urge the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether he cannot make the great influence of this country felt in that respect without departing from those principles which he thinks, as a general rule, ought to govern the conduct of foreign affairs by the Foreign Secretary. I do not know if the right hon. Gentleman can say anything more about the position of British trade in Mexico. I have followed the papers on this subject with a great deal of interest, and I do not agree that what has been done is so hostile as has been represented in some quarters of the Press. Nevertheless, there has been interference with British interests, and I do not know what has been the result of the inquiry with regard to the death of Mr. Williams. I know all that has happened about Mr. Benton, and I deeply regret that we were not able to take any action. I am not presuming to blame the right hon. Gentleman, but perhaps he can tell us what has happened to Mr. Williams. He says that our rear-admiral there is satisfied, but I do not know that British commerce is satisfied that the Foreign Office is sufficiently alert to protect British interests and to stand at the back of the British trader.
I wish to refer briefly to the treatment of the Mahomedans in Albania by the Greeks. I am aware that it is not a one-sided question, but I should always like to hear when Mahomedans are massacred or ill-treated some expression of sympathy with them like that which is freely at the service of Christians when they are massacred by Mahomedans. My sympathy with both is equally great, and I cannot help saying that Ministers like the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the First Lord of the Admiralty make remarks on this question which give rise in foreign countries to the feeling that we have not so much sympathy in high places in this country, and on the Government Bench, with Mahomedans as with Christians, and very great harm is done to the interests of this country in consequence. The right hon. Gentleman may be aware that in the 1414 case of the 151 women and 159 children of the village of Hormova, refugees at the village of Tepeleni, all the male relatives of these women and children were massacred by the Greeks. I could give the right hon. Gentleman several other instances, but I do not desire to mention names which are unfamiliar to myself and to the House, but I commend this case with all my heart to the right hon. Gentleman, and I do hope, in fact I believe, that his sympathies and his good offices will be as much at the service of the Mahomedans as they always are in the case of the Christians. The valley Argyrokastro, with its beautiful name and natural beauties, is being converted into a veritable hell by these contending factions, and my information is that the aggressors are not the Mahomedans. I know how extremely difficult it is for the right hon. Gentleman, but I own that I have often thought that he might have discouraged some of the interpolations put to him, which always proceed upon the assumption that a Christian is a good man in the right, and that the Mahomedan is a bad man in the wrong. Nothing could be more false. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] That may be a picturesque description of a certain attitude, and if my hon. Friend (Mr. Morrell) likes to put on the cap and wear it, I will not gainsay him.
§ Mr. MORRELL
I was wondering whether the hon. Member was referring to me, but, as a matter of fact, I have always been most sympathetic towards the Mahomedans.
§ Sir J. D. REES
I am extremely sorry, but I really did not catch what the hon. Member said. I did not make any attack upon him. I merely said that was the spirit which informs a good many of the addresses made to the right hon. Gentleman from that side of the House. If at any time he should find himself able to say something which would give some balm to the wounded hearts of these Mahomedans, who have not had much reason for thinking that any such sympathy is accorded to them in this country as that which is always lavished upon any man who calls himself a Christian, it would be a comfort to them.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I do not see how the hon. Gentleman can expect the right hon. Gentleman to deal with any such difference of treatment between Christians and Mahomedans.
§ Sir J. D. REES
I thought it was in order, but I take it from you that it is not. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will endeavour to deal with these concrete cases I have put as well as to announce that some greater spirit of sympathy with British trade will be possible in future on behalf of a Government which in another quarter displays nothing but hostility towards it.
§ 2.0 P. M.
§ Mr. A. WILLIAMS
An hon. Friend of mine the other day, when we were discussing this same Vote, made the statement that the matters before us were not matters of haute politique, but matters of far less importance than those great questions which we had before us at the time of the recent Balkan war. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling Burghs (Mr. Ponsonby) has, at any rate, raised one question the importance of which cannot possibly be exaggerated, and it would be to me a very tempting thing to follow him and to try and support him in the powerful appeal he made to the Foreign Secretary to use his great power towards a better relation of the nations which would make the expenditure on armaments, to a large extent, unnecessary. I want, however, to deal with a question with regard to which I have a particular duty. It is a matter of the very greatest importance, equal certainly to those questions which brought about the Balkan war and the great European dangers which accompanied it. Why was it that the Balkan war arose? It was because there was a large area of European Turkey in a very misgoverned state and in a very disturbed and turbulent state. The break-up of European Turkey was due to that mis-government and to the turbulent state which followed. There was the constant suffering of the populations there; the Great Powers on the edge of it were anxious for expansion of power and of territory if the European dominion of Turkey should break up, and Turkey itself had not the wisdom or the power to introduce the reforms which would have enabled her to retain her position in Europe. The result was not only her break-up and great loss, but enormous bloodshed and suffering to the people. There were dangers to the Great Powers, which brought them to the edge of war one with another. There is a very similar area and a very similar problem still calling out to be dealt with—dealt with, if it may be, wisely and by reform on the part of Turkey, but, if 1416 not, likely to lead to very much the same results as we have seen in European Turkey. I refer, of course, to the area of Armenia. You may state, broadly, that the life of the subject people in that area is never safe, that a man never knows when violent death may come upon him, that he still less knows when he will be subject to robbery by the coming down of the armed and semi-barbarous Kurds upon the more civilised people of that country. The taking of their property, the taking of their homes, and the taking of their lands is a matter of almost daily occurrence, and one for which there is practically no redress. Nominally, of course, appeal may be made to the Courts. The other day an Armenian was dispossessed of his land and he was rash enough to appeal to the Court. He received a legal process to eject the Kurd from the land and for his own reinstatement. He proceeded to serve this upon the Kurd in question, and the Kurd immediately killed him. Nothing was done, no notice being taken. That is the regular state of that country. There is no security for property or for life. There is no security for the honour of the women of the subject populations. This is not only a matter of to-day, or yesterday, or last year; it is a matter which has gone on for generations, it is slow torture, varied by big massacres. We know that there have been massacres within the last few years, both under the old Turkish regime and under that of the new Turks—massacres deliberately organised from Constantinople, and in which not only tens of thousands but some say one hundred—and some say two hundred—thousand people have perished. In that district the Armenians are the subject people and the Kurds are the uncivilised, barbarous people who have been favoured by the Turkish Government, and have been encouraged to prey upon the rest of the population.
I am not going to say anything about the religions of these people. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, in what he called a picturesque description, but what other people would call by a much harsher name, asserted that those of us on this side who have spoken from time to time, and who have worked for a good many years, for the better government of the subject people of Turkey, have always had everything good to say of Christians, and never had a word to say for Mahomedans. That is absolutely in- 1417 correct. I assert boldly that our attitude is a demand for good government wherever Great Britain is responsible, as to a large extent we are responsible in Turkey—a demand for good government for all peoples of whatever creed, race, nationality, or religion. Therefore, this is not a question of what religion the Kurds happen to hold or what religion the Armenians may profess. But it is a question very largely that the present position of affairs in Armenia is our doing. It is the responsibility of the British Government. That is a very strong thing to say, but it is so. We have steadily supported Turkey, but have not made it an effective condition that there should be reform. We have talked about reforms but have not used any effective pressure to bring them about, and the condition of the subject people is, therefore, to a very large extent the doing and responsibility of Great Britain.
In order to justify that assertion I need not go far back. At the time of the Treaty of San Stefano, Russia occupied that country, and in that treaty it was stipulated that she was to remain in possession until such time as Turkey had introduced effective reforms. But that treaty was upset by the Treaty of Berlin in which it was stipulated that Russia was to retire immediately from that country, and that Turkey would promise to introduce the reform. Turkey readily promised to do so, but nothing has, in fact, been done. Mr. Gladstone would have tried to enforce it, and the late Lord Salisbury would have brought pressure to bear in order to see that something was done. But he was thwarted in this country and abroad—
§ Mr. A. WILLIAMS
I will not, of course, press the point. My argument was that we ought to do something—that the Foreign Secretary ought to do something in Armenia in view of the responsibility arising from our action in the past. However I will pass that by. The question is, What ought our Foreign Office to do at the present time? There is no question of establishing autonomy in these provinces. The balance of population is such that anything like autonomy, even if the Turkish Government were to establish it, would be quite impossible. In large districts you have 40 per cent. of the people Armenian and the rest of the people divided 1418 into all sorts of races in all stages of development, so that no kind of autonomy is asked for or is possible in these provinces. But good government is asked for, and it is possible. Again it should be made absolutely clear that none of the peoples living there, the Armenians or any others, desire annexation to any foreign Power. There is abundant evidence of Turkish incompetence to establish government in that country. A Member of this House, sitting on the benches opposite, wrote an article not long ago in which he gave quite recent personal experiences in that part of the world, and it is from beginning to end a long tale of absolute incompetence on the part of the present Governors of that country. The only possibility is that European agents should be employed, and that they should have the backing of the Great Powers. After the Turkish war there was some opportunity for introducing reforms in these provinces. Turkey had great needs—needs of loans and of an increase in her Customs duties, but, unfortunately, that great opportunity was lost, or perhaps I may say it was given away, as we were told the other day that the financial needs of Turkey had been agreed to be met as part of the negotiations with regard to the Bagdad Railway.
The question is whether anything can be done now—whether the Turks have learned from the lessons they have suffered in Europe. Apparently some have, and quite recently we have been glad to see that two High Commissioners have been appointed, Messieurs Westenenk and Hof, one a Dutchman and the other a Norwegian, to go to Armenia and take charge of the government of that country. That is all to the good, and although it has not been officially communicated to this Government, I suppose we may take it that it is a real fact, and we may congratulate most particularly those reforming Turks who have been able to bring this about. We are told that these gentlemen have gone to Constantinople, but we are not told that they have taken any further steps in order to begin their very serious and heavy duties. But I can hardly imagine that they would be rash enough to take up those duties until they have adequate assurances that they will be vested with sufficient powers, and that they will receive sufficient support from the Great Powers. I venture to say all the Great Powers are immensely 1419 interested in giving them that adequate support, Turkey, of course, above all, is interested—well, I should not say, perhaps, above all, because, above all, it is the inhabitants, of all races and all religions, of these Provinces who are interested in having decent government instead of turmoil established there. But among the Powers Turkey is, of course, the one that is most interested, because the very existence of Turkey in Asia depends upon introducing reforms, especially into those provinces. Those are true friends of Turkey who urge these reforms upon her. But we sometimes feel—indeed, I very strongly feel—that Gentlemen who get up and talk in what is called a pro-Turkish way are the very worst enemies of Turkey, because they encourage her to think that she can go on and get support without introducing decent government for her subject population.
If you come to the Great Powers you have this position: Russia, just across the border, has a very large Armenian population, and that Armenian population is very well governed, is thoroughly contented, and thoroughly prosperous. The Armenians on the south of the border have always wished to remain Turkish subjects. They have been known as "the loyal nation" in Turkey; they have fought for and served Turkey, and they do not wish to be absorbed into any other country, because they believe their religion, their language, their nationality, and their separate existence can be better preserved in Turkey than under a foreign country. But they are almost despairing. They are saying, "How much longer are we to be kept waiting? When are the expectations which we have entertained in regard to Great Britain to be realised? "If they turn, as some are turning, their eyes towards Russia, then a great danger may arise, as some incident may lead Russia to cross the frontier and occupy these provinces; and then I suppose the scramble for the whole of Asiatic Turkey amongst the Powers will begin, and the break-up of Asiatic Turkey will follow upon the break-up of European Turkey. Great Britain, of all the Powers, is most strongly interested, because we have a vast Mahomedan Empire, especially in India, and if the break-up of Asiatic Turkey were to take place it would have an effect upon our Mahomedan Empire, and especially upon our Indian Maho-medans, very, very different from the 1420 effect of what happened in European Turkey. They have always regarded the Turks in Europe as invaders who would have to go some time; but in Asia they are in their own home, and, if reforms in Armenia be neglected until the catastrophe comes, whatever it may be for other nations, it will be a very great calamity indeed for us in India. Above all, I think I may come back to the point that not only our interest but our honour is involved in this matter, seeing that it is we who more than thirty years ago prevented a solution of this question, which has gone on in a prolonged agony ever since. I hope, therefore, we may have from the right hon. Gentleman some assurance of his active interest in this matter. Nobody asks that the British Government should resort to armed force. There are many things short of armed force which afford useful means for bringing about improvements, and I hope, therefore, we shall have the right hon. Gentleman's active interest, and not merely an attitude of friendly expectancy. Lastly, I wish to emphasise that this is no mere question of humanitarian concern for a few million people in one particular part of a distant country, but it is a matter upon which the peace of the great nations of Europe in the early future may depend.
Sir GILBERT PARKER
I wish to say a few words in support of the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Staffordshire (Mr. George Lloyd), and my hon. Friend the Member for East Nottingham (Sir J. D. Rees). There is no doubt that British commercial, financial, and industrial interests are a matter of grave anxiety to those who represent them in this country, in view of the tremendous competition by other countries to secure contracts, trade and concessions in other parts of the world. My hon. Friend the Member for East Nottingham referred to Mexico. I will only say one or two words on that subject. I should like to tell the Committee what was said to me by the highest personage in Mexico in 1893. At this distance of time I think I can well repeat what was said, inasmuch as much water has flowed under the bridges and the conditions in Mexico are entirely changed. He said to me, "The Americans come down here with big schemes, but one scheme in particular they try to force upon us—that is, to do business in their way. We cannot be hustled, because manana is really the spirit and temper of our people. You English come and, 1421 without direction or organisation, attempt to capture our trade and take advantage of the opportunities that offer in Mexico for concessions and advantages to your industry and commerce. You do not organise. The result is that you are beaten by one other country which organises everything that it does in its relations with foreign countries and its own trade. I refer to Germany. The German Legation in Mexico is a commercial agency, and through every part of Mexico there is felt the effect of a clear purpose and policy, that is, to secure for German trade and German manufactures this market if it can be done. Also in the matter of concessions, the German Legation is as active as any individual could be in using diplomatic pressure, and in using individual diplomatic influence in securing those advantages to the country to which they belong." That was in 1893. I am not going to criticise the right hon. Gentleman at all. I am not closely acquainted with what advantages we have got in Mexico since that time. I know that then we were being outpaced by the Germans, and properly outpaced, inasmuch as they did what it was their duty to do.
I am going to pass from that subject to another, which I think is of great importance. With regard to the speech of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr. Aneurin Williams), with very much of which I sympathise, I have never shared a feeling of censure upon hon. Members on either side of the House who interest themselves in the case of peoples who are not well governed, and who are associated with States which, in their lack of proper government, are a menace to the peace of Europe. I have sometimes thought we might well proportion our feelings of sympathy more, and that it might be more properly distributed, and not confined to some particular area or to the particular area with which the hon. Gentleman dealt. I think there has been too much sentimental interest very often attached to the advocacy of reforms in some particular area, when within the British Empire there are areas where that sympathy could be extended with great advantage. I say this because I am about to raise a question concerning an area where we have no real authority, or an authority no greater than the other chief Powers of Europe who have, with us, been responsible for attempting to secure the better government of native races throughout Africa. I refer to Portuguese West 1422 Africa. I do not think I am a sentimentalist, but on such questions as the abuse of administration in the Congo I took a strong action and an action which I have never regretted. May I quote in this connection:—Happy are all free peoples too strong to be dispossessed;But blessed are they among nations that dare to be strong for the rest.Our Foreign Minister has a very difficult task. He has many times had to intervene or to use diplomacy in the interest of peoples where at first there was opposition, criticism, and obstruction from other Powers. In the case of West Africa and native labour there, I am well aware of the difficulty the right hon. Gentleman encounters, but I will gay that the action he has taken in the past has given every hope to those of us who take an interest in the matter and in the government of native races and the conditions under which natives work in or contiguous to our own territories, that a better condition of things might prevail in Portuguese West Africa, notably in the Islands of Principe and San Thomé. But we are faced with the fact that at this moment there are regulations coming from the Portuguese Government which permit forced labour in those territories. Many hon. Members have taken very strong views about forced labour. In spite of the fact that an inadequate attempt has been made to secure the repatriation of natives from these islands and a better system of recontracting, we are faced with the fact that whatever depletion there is of labour in these islands owing to repatriation, it is being met in a sense by the permission to engage forced labour. In Article 35 of the decree of 13th May, 1911, this is the definition of compulsory labour:—Compulsory labour consists of the obligation of performing certain tasks, such as repairing and building roads, and transporting goods from the Custom House or agricultural work on private property.I agree absolutely with Lord Cromer's view in regard to that, that while in countries where native labour is often idle and where the native, having the advantages of civilisation and the better conditions due to civilisation, refuses to do anything at all, and is not taxed directly, he ought to be made to assist the Government in constructing roads, just as in our own Colonies men have been obliged to work on the roads and, in pioneer conditions, to make transport possible; but when it comes to permitting private individuals for agricultural purposes to secure forced labour, it seems 1423 to me that a door is opened which may lead to abuses which this House has condemned very severely in the past, and concerning which, particularly in the Congo, we took a very active part in removing. It is a thing of much consequence to us who have in contiguous territories populations of our own, and the action of the Portuguese Government in permitting this forced labour is to my mind extremely dangerous to the future interests of these territories, and extremely dangerous altogether to the general policy approved by other nations with ourselves in regard to native races. Article 25 reads:—Applications for private service may only be made by proprietors or tenants of land intended for cultivation of an area not less than ten hectares, by manufacturers or established merchants, and by managers and administrators.I regard that as an extremely serious position, and I am hopeful that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to bring such influence to bear upon the Portugese Government that forced labour shall not be permitted to be used, except in the case of the construction of Government roads, and such other Government works where the Government itself cannot secure sufficient labour.
I should like to come to the question of recontracting. The conditions are much better than they were. Before anything was done at all, associations in this country and private individuals and Members of this House, worked to create a better understanding on the part of the people of this country and the Government of what the conditions were. The conditions were bad enough, but we did secure a system of repatriation. I will not say that that system has been a farce, but our Consuls say in effect that it has been a farce. They base their conclusions on the ground that in one year only 1,300 to 1,500 labourers were repatriated out of many scores of thousands employed. The reply of the Portugese Government was that they had not facilities for transport. Our representatives in Lisbon were able to point out that the facilities for transport were sufficient, with the ships that sailed from Lisbon only, for the repatriation of 13,000 men, while with two other ships, one British and one German, able to carry 500 a month, they could bring the number up to 20,000. That is a distinct breach of the diplomatic understanding which was come to that there should be adequate repatriation, and the statement 1424 made by the Portugese Minister that it was solely from an insufficiency of vessels that there had not been greater repatriation, falls to the ground. I do not say that it is a false statement, but information to hand goes to show that it was an inaccurate statement or that the Minister had been misinformed, and as he has since been informed of the actual facts and the capacity of the steamers between Lisbon and these islands to carry a larger number of natives, one would have expected that by this time there would be an increased repatriation. There has not been and, therefore, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman once more to make representations. I am not sure that he is not making them now. I am quite satisfied that, as in the case of the Congo, he has not only been deeply impressed, but is deeply anxious to secure a better condition of affairs in that particular area.
In regard to recontracting, I do not wish to rely upon reports of ministers of religion, though I am bound to say that in the case of the Congo the first accurate information that we had concerning affairs there came from ministers of religion and not from our Consuls, and that the statements which were made were subsequently borne out by our Consuls. The only reference which I would make would be to those responsible men sent out by this Government to represent us in those areas, and they plainly state that nine months after the contracts had expired native boys are still waiting to be repatriated, and also that pressure is brought to bear upon the plantations for recontracts. What is the kind of pressure? I will not go into it in detail, but the system is evidently a bad one, and our Consuls recommend another system. When their contracts have expired the boys, in one case, have to wait until the curador comes to the plantation and finds out whether they want to renew their contract or to be repatriated, and in the other, they go round to the curador's office and are there independently permitted to choose whether they will be repatriated or whether they will have new contracts. While the system remains that they must wait upon the plantations until the curador visits the plantation and finds out from them what they want to do, it is quite clear and very natural that influence could be used to secure recontracts by the owner of that plantation. We know what the position of the natives is: that the white man has such great influence, and has white helpers who use means, not means of tyranny, but means quite adequate 1425 without cruelty to secure recontract. Difficulties are put in the way. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has these matters under consideration, and if it could be established that all these people should be required to come to the curador's office, there to state wherever they wish to be repatriated or to recontract, and, if they wish to recontract, they should have freedom to contract with whatever owner of a plantation they choose, or to remain there in the area where the curador is until they are repatriated. In that way a good many difficulties and criticisms which now are warranted would be removed or would have no foundation. An obligation was entered into by the planters to repatriate and to place in the hands of the native a sum which was originally fixed at £18, but is now reduced, but that money has not been forthcoming from the repatriation fund.
I should like to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to a matter which I know has been brought to his notice from other channels, namely, that the repatriation fund is in a position which requires the closest scrutiny on the part of the Portuguese Government. For a time it was in the hands of an authority, and it amounted to £100,000. In 1908 it was transferred to the San Thomé Bank. It was £100,000 when it came to the bank, and was placed at the credit of the account. It diminished, but by what means is not known, to £62,000. If you take the wages of the men and women employed upon the plantations, and the amount which was taken from their wages to be applied to the repatriation fund, you will find that up to the present time there ought to be £564,000 at the credit of the fund. There is at the present time £200,000 at the credit of the fund. Administration alone does not appear to account for the enormous discrepancy between these amounts, because the expenses of management cannot be more than £15,000, and at the present time there is an estimated shortage in that repatriation fund of approximately £300,000 upon the basis of the calculation of the scheme for repatriation arrived at in 1907–8. I regard it as an extremely grave matter. If we, had control of it, one would be inclined to say some very severe things of the Department in this country responsible for that. But we are in some measure responsible. The Portuguese Government have acknowledged our 1426 right to make representations at least, and if we are permitted to make representations at all we are obliged, I think, to point out this extraordinary condition of affairs, because it certainly affects the whole question of repatriation according to the expiry of contract. I do not wish to press this matter, because I know that the Foreign Office has it under consideration. I do want, however, to say that in the matters I have brought forward there is clearly not only bad management, but as, I believe, wilful bad management, on the part, at any rate, of the subordinates of the Portuguese Government and those responsible for recontracting and repatriation.
I sincerely trust that the right hon. Gentleman may be able to say this afternoon that any negotiations or representations made to the Portuguese Government have been such as to secure promises and agreement that the reform which promised to be an adequate reform, and which has proved to be wholly inadequate, will be brought up to the standard which was fixed when representations were first made, when the repatriation fund was first established, and when a decree was issued for repatriation and for the examination of contracts. I believe this to be a very important matter. The Portuguese Government agreed that the curador should announce publicly in the local fashion the expiry of contracts as they expired. As soon as they expired there was to be shown in the offices of the curador a full list of the contracts. If that is so, and if the expiry of those contracts were announced, then there would be, as I think there should be, an effort to secure for the men labour of their own free will. But to have the business run on the rigid system that men are only able to recontract with those for whom they have already worked is bad. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give us some assurance on this question, lest there should be what I would not like to see, an agitation in this country, and in this Parliament, so exciting as to produce bad feeling between the Portuguese Government and this Government. The right hon. Gentleman has the faculty, the opportunity, and the great ability to carry out negotiations without the necessity of having an agitated public mind behind. I trust it will not be necessary in this case, and I do not believe it will. Therefore, I hope we shall have a satisfactory statement this afternoon.
§ Mr. DICKINSON
This Debate, of course, has to take a somewhat discursive form, and, therefore, I do not propose to follow the interesting observations made by the hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir G. Parker) as I wish to recur to the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for the Stirling Burghs in regard to the action, if any, which the Government of this country is taking in order to make some progress as to the subject of disarmament, or, at any rate, as to the consideration of the respective armaments of different nations. I submit that this country is peculiarly committed to taking some steps in advance with regard to this question. In 1899, the first Peace Conference at The Hague was held, as we all know, in pursuance of a rescript by the Czar of Russia, by which the nations were invited to meet together to consider this very question of the reduction of armaments. On that occasion, when Mr. Goschen was speaking with regard to the coming Conference on the 9th March, 1899, he said:—I have now to state on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, if our neighbours should be prepared to diminish their programmes of shipbuilding, we should be prepared on our side to meet such procedure by modifying ours. The difficulties of adjustment are no doubt immense: but our desire that the Conference should succeed in enlightening the tremendous burdens which now weigh down all European nations is sincere.The discussion on that question was taken at the Conference, and, among others, the representatives of Great Britain were somewhat responsible for the result. The only thing that happened was that a recommendation was agreed to by the delegates that the Governments, having regard to the propositions advanced in the Conference, should take up the study of the possibility of an agreement concerning the limitation of armed forces on land and sea. When the question arose about the holding of a second Peace Conference in 1907, this matter was brought up in this House by Mr. Henry Vivian, who, on the 9th May, 1906, moved a Resolution calling on the Government to press for the inclusion of the question of the reduction of armaments by international agreement in the agenda of the forthcoming Hague Conference. And in speaking on the Resolution, and in opposing an Amendment which had been moved by Mr. Bellairs to omit these words, the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary said that:—the amendment would preclude the British Government from taking any initiative at The Hague. There was no greater service that the Conference could do 1428 than to make the conditions of peace less expensive by a reduction of armaments. All the nations were waiting on each other. Some day or the other somebody must take the first step. We ought not to be precluded in any way. It may be that there is some other Power ready to take the initiative; but we should not be precluded from taking the initiative and doing all in our power to encourage it being brought forward in the most practical form.On that statement the Amendment was withdrawn and the Resolution was accepted unanimously by this House. When the Conference, however, met in 1907 there was no mention of this important fact on the programme. M. Nélidow, the representative of the Russian Government, who presided, explained that in the view of his Government the question was not considered sufficiently ripe to be put on the programme, but the representatives of this country, together with the representatives of the United States, pleaded forcibly that it should be placed upon the programme. The representatives of France, Spain, and Italy agreed to this, but the representatives of Germany, Austria, and Russia, said that they would take no part in the Debate. The reason put forward by Prince von Bülow on behalf of Germany was that at that Conferenceno concrete, serious, practical, realisable answer was presented.Therefore this question was not debated. But at the close of the Conference Sir Edward Fry made a speech of great importance, in which he pointed out that the expenditure upon armaments had risen from £251,000,000 to £300,000,000 sterling. As to an arrest of this growth, he said:—I can only assure you that my Government is a convinced partisan of these high aspirations, and that it charges me to summon you to work and toil together for the fulfilment of this noble desire. I beseech you not to separate without having demanded that the Governments of the world shall devote themselves very seriously to the question of military expenditure.He concluded by moving this resolution:—The Conference confirms the resolution adopted by the Conference of 1899 in regard to the restriction of military expenditures: and since military expenditures have increased considerably in nearly every country since the said year, the Conference declares that it is highly desirable to see the Governments take up the serious study of this question.This was supported by the delegates of the United States, France, and Spain, M. Bourgeois expressing confidence that from this time until the next Peace Conference the study to which the Conference invited the Government will be resolutely pursued. On that motion being returned to the Conference, the President, who was the representative of the Russian Government, spoke, and after having explained 1429 again the reasons why this subject had not been put upon the programme, said:—The Russian Government thought that the question was not yet ripe for fruitful discussion, but the seeds sown at the first Conference have germinated. A very marked movement of public opinion has become apparent in different lands in favour of the limitation of armaments, and the Governments whose sympathies for this principle have not lessened, notwithstanding the difficulties of execution, find themselves in face of manifestations which they are not in a position to satisfy.That resolution, on the advice of the President, was passed with absolute unanimity, all the representatives of all the nations agreeing that the Governments should be asked to consider seriously, with a view to the next Conference, all serious proposals, or any proposals, indeed, for the reduction of armaments. That was seven years ago. Since then no step has been taken that we know of as between the Governments to arrive at any solution of this question of armaments. In November, 1910, the United States addressed a Note to various Governments asking them whether they would co-operate in the establishment of a Commission to study how a limitation of armaments could be brought about. But I believe that few of the Governments responded to that proposal, which has fallen through. Then we come to the various proposals that have been made from time to time, either on these benches or at public meetings, to which the hon. Member for Stirling Burghs has referred. Those proposals were suggestions for some agreement between Germany and ourselves. But I share with my hon. Friend the conviction that that is not the way by which we can attain the end we desire. Not only do I believe that we do not improve our relations with Germany, or indeed with any country, by that particular kind of negotiation, but I am convinced that this subject of the reduction of armaments cannot possibly be dealt with by one or two or three countries alone. It must be considered, and fully considered, by some general method of consideration, discussion, and decision by all the Governments concerned. It comes, therefore, to this, that if any steps are to be taken to advance in this direction, it can only be by a repetition of the attempt which was made, or proposed to be made, in the first two Conferences to raise this subject again at the coming Hague Conference. That leads me to ask, and I hope we may have some reply on this question to-day: When is the next Hague Conference going to take place, and are 1430 we making any preparation at all which will put us in a position, after due consideration, to put these important questions on the programme so that they may be properly discussed?
The report of the Conference of 1907 concluded with this recommendation. The hon. Gentleman read the final recommendation, unanimously adopted, of the Conference, in reference to the holding of the third Hague Conference, that it would be very desirable that arrangements should be made some considerable time before the probable date of the third meeting, and that a Committee should be appointed to collect the various proposals for submission to the Conference, and to prepare a programme which the Governments in the meantime should be allowed to carefully examine. They further recommended that the Committee should be entrusted with the task of organising the procedure of the Conference itself. That was the unanimous expression of the last Conference. And here, again, I think we are justified in asking what steps have been taken by any Government to carry out that suggestion. In the ordinary course, if we take the interval which elapsed between the first and second Conferences, the time for the third Conference to take place would be next year—1915. Therefore it is impossible to now appoint this Committee of Consideration two years before the holding of the Conference, unless it is postponed to very much later. I hardly anticipate now that it can be held in the year 1915. But it becomes very important that attention should be brought to this question, otherwise we might find the Conference postponed to 1916 or 1917, or a little later; whereas, I believe, the world is waiting and is anxious for an attempt to be made by the various Governments of Europe and America to come to an understanding on some of these very important questions. There seems to be some hesitation about it. It may be that the Government feels the difficulty. No doubt there are very great difficulties, but I am certain that if it were definitely resolved upon, and if we knew that the Conference was going to take place in a particular year, the Government would find behind them a force of public opinion and a very large number of individuals who would be prepared to back them in any bonâ fide attempt to arrive at a solution of these questions. They would also find side by side with 1431 them numerous organisations of a more or less important character, which have already thoroughly discussed this question, and they would be in a position to lay before the Conference definite proposals of a practical nature. That being so, I respectfully urge upon our Government that they should take some steps—I have tried to point out that we seem to have a special sort of position in this matter—to accelerate the holding of this Conference. I am sorry to say that in one respect not only are we not accelerating it, but our action is postponing it. It is well known that in almost all countries it is recognised that the next Hague Conference cannot properly take place until the work of the last Hague Conference has been practically completed. The work of the last Hague Conference was to inaugurate the Convention of 1910, which has now become known by the name of the Declaration of London. That Declaration has not been ratified, and is not ratified by any nation at present, by reason of the fact that it is not ratified by this nation. We are waiting for the passing of the Naval Prize Bill. We have understood for the last few years that the Bill is going to be carried through Parliament, or at any rate introduced into Parliament again, in order that further steps could be taken to ratify the Convention I suppose at this date of the Session it is difficult to foresee the possibility of it, but I hope that it may still be possible for the Bill to be passed in this Parliament; otherwise the position will be made more and more difficult for those who are working towards a further and better understanding between the various nations, and especially with regard to the arrangements for The Hague Conference. I have ventured to bring forward this question because it is really the only opportunity we have of raising it, and it is one which I feel certain is considered as of great importance not only in this country but all over the world. But everyone seems to be waiting upon one another, and, unless something is done, or unless some one takes the first step now, possibly we shall delay the consideration of this question until it is perhaps too late to come to any conclusion at all.
§ Mr. MORRELL
I think the Committee will agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling Burghs (Mr. Ponsonby) that a very useful work has been undertaken in connection with this Vote in 1432 drawing the attention of the Committee to the importance of arriving upon the subject of the increase in armaments at some international agreement. I am very glad that my hon. Friend behind me (Mr. Dickinson) has followed that up by asking for some further information as to the date and as to the arrangements for the next Hague Conference. I only rise, in the first place, to support the request for information, and I do so because it is now some three months ago since I put a question to the right hon. Gentleman on this very subject. I then asked him for information about the International Committee, which I understand is to be set up in order to prepare the work of The Hague Conference. The answer which he gave me on 28th April was:—Suggestions have been received from the United States of America for the setting up of an International Committee. Those are forming the subject of discussion between His Majesty's Government and the United States Government.I would be glad if the right hon. Gentleman would tell us in what state those negotiations are. Have they been completed, and, if so, what has been done in making arrangements for that International Committee? There is a second point as to the Interdepartmental Committee which is to be set up in this country to arrange for the programme so far as this country is concerned and the views which are to be expressed on behalf of His Majesty's Government at the Conference when it takes place. As to that, the right hon. Gentleman said that steps are now being taken to form an Interdepartmental Committee, and afterwards he stated that a Cabinet Minister would preside over that Committee. Has that Committee yet been set up and begun its deliberations or is it to wait until the date of The Hague Conference has been fixed? I am the more anxious to get information on this point, because it seems to me to be very important that we should, as soon as possible, determine as to the policy which this country is going to pursue on what has become a burning question, namely, the question of the capture of private property at sea in time of war. I do not wish now, again, to raise the merits of that question which I raised a few months ago in this House, especially in view of the very fair and sympathetic answer which we have got from the right hon. Gentleman on this subject. I would merely like to ask how it stands and whether he has seen his way to take any further step with a view to defining our position on the question. I think 1433 what my right hon. Friend said at that time (and I am speaking from memory) was that he could not undertake on behalf of the Government to initiate negotiations with another Government upon this question, but he added that he saw no reason why we should not in the future devote our efforts, not so much to finding objections to the policy as to the finding of the conditions upon which the abolition of the right of capture of private property at sea might be conceded by this country. I think that was the effect of the reply he gave to me. It is, of course, an extremely complicated subject, and it is of the utmost importance that the conditions upon which we might agree to the immunity of private property at sea should be discussed as soon as possible. I therefore would be glad if the right hon. Gentleman could tell us whether any steps have yet been taken to set up the Interdepartmental Committee, and if that is so, whether this question of the immunity of private proporty at sea will be brought before the Committee.
I desire to refer, also, to the subject of Persia. I must say I think we all welcomed the two announcements which were made by the right hon. Gentleman in a previous Debate, namely, in the first place, that this question of Persia is again under discussion between His Majesty's Government and the Russian Government, and, in the second place, that he is taking steps to keep the Swedish gendarmerie in existence, and was advancing a small loan for that purpose. I think myself, having followed this subject with some care for two or three years, that it is hardly possible to exaggerate the blackness of the situation in Persia just now, and all the more so because it is not a new situation, but for two and a half years, ever since the expulsion of Mr. Schuster, the situation in Persia has gone steadily from bad to worse. In December, 1911, the right hon. Gentleman made a very important speech, in which he set before the House the new policy that was to be pursued in order, as he expressed it, to put the Persian Government on its legs, and keep it there. Amongst other things, two points were mentioned, first he hoped that the Russian troops would be withdrawn, and, secondly, that an important loan would be raised, not merely a small advance, but a really important loan, which would enable the Persian Government to organise its forces, and to put 1434 down disorder and establish a better Government. I need not say that neither of those objects has yet been carried out, and, on the contrary, we find that the Russian Government have maintained practically all their troops. Although there has recently been a slight withdrawal, I believe it is true to say to-day that the Russian troops are more numerous than they were in December, 1911, when my right hon. Friend made that statement. Again they have maintained the ex-brigand, Shuja-ed-Dowleh, in defiance of repeated requests of the Russian Government. Lastly, we find, or at least we are informed, that the Russian officials are actually now collecting taxes on their own account in the North—as against the Persian Government, and using them, so we are told, to pay her soldiers. I suppose that means the Russian Cossack Brigade, and does not really mean Russian troops. It is a very serious state of things when the Russian officials are collecting Persian taxes in defiance of the Persian Government. All these matters, no doubt, are forming, or will form the subject of discussion between the two Governments, and therefore I can hardly expect the right hon. Gentleman to give us a reply until the discussions are concluded. I would once more urge upon him the importance especially of the financial situation in Persia. I have here a letter from Teheran, dated 11th June, from a correspondent whose name I shall be glad to give the right hon. Gentleman in private, and in which he describes the appalling straits in which the Persian Government now is. He says:—I suppose you have read in your Raad of Mornard's having called on the Russians to hand over the taxes of Azarbaijan to the Treasury. The Government is at its wit's end to know whence to raise any money. Mornard is to be found any day of the week taking bast in the bank, or somewhere away from the noisy creditors round his house.This cannot go on much longer, and when they have reached that condition, I would urge that one of the first objects should be to see that there may be a new financial Commissioner appointed in order that the taxes which the Swedish gendarmerie make it possible to collect may be properly applied. If the entente with Russia counts for anything, if British friendship is of any value to the Russian Government, it is high time that they should understand that there is a strong feeling in this country on this subject, and that we expect that some steps shall be taken in such matters as those to which I have referred.
§ Mr. KING
There are one or two aspects of this discussion which have been altogether creditable to the House. One is that we are favoured with the presence of the Leader of the Opposition. I am extremely glad that he is here to listen to the very practical manner in which foreign policy has been discussed on both sides of the House, and to notice that the House of Commons can discuss affairs of the highest importance entirely apart from party spirit. I hope that this practical way of looking at things without prejudice or party spirit may be a lesson to him and to us all. Let me also say that though we have been a small and rather select company this afternoon, we have been a very sensible one. I am sure that even the Foreign Secretary himself can only feel grateful to those of us who have spoken for the great number of practical suggestions which we have laid at his feet. I intend to refer to two subjects, also in a practical spirit, and to offer suggestions which, I hope he will, at any rate, consider, and if possible, adopt. I wish to refer, in the first place, to the state of things revealed by the Report of the Putu-mayo Select Committee of a year ago.
I have been extremely disappointed at receiving an answer from the right hon. Gentleman to the effect, apparently, that there is no Bill yet on the stocks at the Foreign Office dealing with the important matters referred to in that Report. I do not intend to touch upon the need for the subjects of legislation in this connection; but if the right hon. Gentleman is not prepared to bring in a Bill shortly, he must be all the more ready to use his Consular forces to urge upon companies and foreign nations the fact that we are keenly alive to the disclosures which have been made, and to the possible danger in tropical districts where coloured labour is being used in enterprises for the development of the country. The very fact that we have been the first to elucidate this question of the way in which coloured labour has been exploited in practically unknown districts forces us also to be the first to see that our Consular agents do as much as they possibly can in acquiring information and keeping the Foreign Office aware of any shortcomings that may be brought to light. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether there has been any strengthening of the Consular agents in South America or in other parts of the world where British companies are developing un- 1436 known districts in practically uncivilised lands, and whether information is being acquired as quickly and as fully as possible.
The other matter is in connection with the passports issued to foreign travellers when they enter the Russian Empire. It is probably not generally known that very few civilised countries now demand pass ports with Consular visa before admitting foreigners into their territory. As far as I have been able to ascertain, the only countries which demand that foreigners entering their territory should present passports with Consular visa, or indeed passports at all, are Roumania, Turkey, Persia, Columbia, Venezuela, and Hayti. Besides these, there is only one of the Great Powers, namely, Russia. If you go into any of these countries you require a passport with Consular visa, and that necessitates a certain amount of questioning of the traveller. The only country in the world that demands to know the religious persuasion of the person bringing a passport to its frontier is Russia. It is a matter of very grave and serious import that a sort of religious embargo or religious condition is imposed upon anybody who wishes to enter the Russian Empire. The reason for this is well known. It is that, if possible, no Jew should be allowed to enter Russian territory. At present any Jew who, when asking for a passport, declares his religious persuasion, is refused permission to enter Russian territory at all. Whatever his character, standing, abilities, or fame, that man is kept out of and prevented from passing through Russian territory. I consider that a country which abuses the right of free entry in this way is outside the brotherhood of nations. Of course, it is not without considerable protest that this policy has been pursued for a great number of years by Russia. What does it mean? It means that some of the most respected Members of this House, if they wanted to enter Russia, would be unable to do so. A few moments ago the hon. Member for West St. Pancras (Mr. Cassel). one of the most distinguished Members of the Opposition, especially in connection with finance, was in his place: he would not be allowed to enter the Russian Empire. The hon. Member for London University (Sir P. Magnus), whom we all respect, and who represents a constituency more distinguished for science—and especially for medicine and education—than any other constituency in the land: he would not be allowed to enter the 1437 Russian Empire. The right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary has two colleagues, the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Montagu) and the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Herbert Samuel), who would not be allowed to enter Russia; while if our Lord Chief Justice desired in the course of the Long Vacation to enter the Russian Empire, he would be treated in a way which possibly he would consider quite right in the case of an undesirable alien whom he condemned to deportation.
I think that a protest against this action of the Russian Government ought to be made in this land of enlightenment, liberty, and justice, and in this Assembly, where I believe those principles still have some weight. I make this appeal in all earnestness, and with the suggestion that the Foreign Secretary should not be weary in well-doing. I know that this matter has occupied for long the attention of the Foreign Office. I know that other countries have taken extreme measures. I know that the United States, in response to a very widespread feeling of indignation which swept from one side of the Union to the other, have denounced their treaty under which previously the rights were given of mutual access and freedom for citizens of both countries to trade and enter each other's country. I want to suggest a practical proposal to the Foreign Secretary, and ask him whether he cannot enter into negotiations with the Russian Government with a view to some difference being made in the inquiries directed to those persons who wish to enter Russia. If this were done, and if—I will not say some method of references or character—some testimony as to the standing, status, and object with which the person was desirous of entering the Russian Empire was required on different lines to those at present in force, the difficulty, scandal, and irritation which are caused by the present state of things might be got over. I will add to the facts which I have put forward this consideration: I believe our attitude to and our relations with Russia are of extreme importance at the present moment, especially in Germany, which, of course, has naturally great suspicions and possible dangers to recognise in her neighbour on the East.
Germans have said to me again and again, "How can we believe that you are not absolutely bound to Russia when we see the result of your Persian policy, and when we know of statements like those of 1438 1911 by the Foreign Secretary, which have been followed by your falling, as it were, into the arms of Russia when they wanted to make an advance against Persia?" In the same way I say that if we took up a firm and strong attitude towards Russia we would show our independence, and we should, I believe, gain the confidence, respect, and sympathy of the whole civilised world. The question really for civilisation, and for our standing amongst the nations of the world, is an extremely important one. I, for my part, believe that we ought to do everything that we can in. our public policy to gain the confidence, respect, good will, and even affection of countries like Germany, which stand with us in the forefront of civilisation. We ought rather to show, even at some risk to ourselves, that we sympathise with the objects which are akin to them rather than show on every occasion that we are ready to fall into line with plans for aggression, or the management or control of other foreign countries, such as now appears to foreigners to be our policy in regard to our action in Persia. I will not stand more than a moment or two longer between the Committee, and possibly the Leader of the Opposition, whose intervention in debate in Committee of Supply we shall be glad to welcome. In my opinion he attends far too seldom the practical discussions of the House, and far too often on the more polemical occasions. I trust this afternoon he will turn over a new leaf, and appear before the House with practical suggestions directed across the Table, and especially, if he will support the practical suggestions which I have now been making, I shall only be too glad to sit down at once to be followed by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I cannot resist the touching appeal of the hon. Gentleman opposite, although I think his compliment is hardly deserved. It has been my habit to come to the House not only to make speeches—I am quite willing to listen to them. The hon. Member began his remarks by congratulating the Foreign Secretary on the wise and businesslike speeches which had been directed to him. I had the pleasure of listening to them. I do not contradict the view of the hon. Member, but I am quite sure that what he had in his mind were not the speeches which had taken place, but the speech which was just about to be addressed to the right hon. Gentleman. I am not going to waste the time of the House. I am 1439 sorry to say that while I listened to the speeches, what struck me was not the businesslike feature of them, but something very different. Here was the House of Commons lecturing the Foreign Secretary on the duty of keeping peace throughout the whole world, when we all know that at this moment it is his duty—a duty which some of us doubt whether he will be able to accomplish—to keep peace within our own borders.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Sir Edward Grey)
I think I owe an apology to one or two hon. Members for not having been present when the Debate actually began, and of which some complaint was made. I do not think I was more than three or four minutes late at the most.
§ Sir E. GREY
I was engaged at the Foreign Office, conferring on a Departmental matter, or I certainly should have been present at the very commencement. I say that because I am rather sensitive as to the obligation of the Foreign Minister to be present when foreign affairs are under discussion. During all the years I have held office I think I have only been three times late at question time, and I always do my best to be present during the whole of the time that foreign affairs are under discussion, or during the discussion of any subject—such as the Anglo-Persian Oil Contract—which is connected with foreign affairs. Seeing that I absent myself on many conspicuous occasions when foreign affairs are not under discussion, and when my attendance is not required, I am quite prepared, and am all the more anxious, that I should be present on occasions when my presence, important, of course, from the fact of the office I hold, is desirable or necessary.
This afternoon I regarded rather as an opportunity of listening than of speaking. I spoke last week for considerably over an hour. We only, I think, had about four hours allotted for discussing the Foreign Office Vote, and I found when I sat down that I had taken considerably over an hour. I felt a great deal of compunction at having occupied so much time. This afternoon I tried to bear in mind that the Foreign Office Vote was not merely an opportunity for the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to express his opinion, but an opportunity for the House to express their opinions. I entirely 1440 endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset (Mr. King) said, that the Debate has been conducted in no party spirit. There has been a great deal of criticism, but it has been criticism directed to the merits of particular questions, and from a desire to examine those questions on their merits, and not in any party spirit. This has been in no sense a party Debate; I wish to make that quite clear. I have not heard everything said. I have heard some things which I thought I could, answer. I have not heard anything of which I want to make any complaint. But I would ask anyone to put himself in the place of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Anyone who listened to all the speeches made must see how much was expected of the Foreign Office. A great amount of ground has been covered by these speeches, not nearly all the ground which the Foreign Office has to cover. But still a great deal of ground was covered. I remember once reading a book called "Great Expectations." Well, the Debate this afternoon has not covered anything like the whole field of Foreign Affairs, and could not cover it. If you consider what I should try to undertake, if I was to satisfy the expectations raised, I think there would be a little concern felt at the amount that might be expected. We are told we are to promote British commerce all over the world. That, of course, is one of the first duties of the Foreign Office. It is a greater task than is laid upon any other Department of the State. It is not merely that we are to encourage and protect trade which exists, but we are to open up other avenues of trade, and in each particular corner, whether it is Asia Minor, Persia, or China, where we obtain a concession we are to achieve more and greater success than any other country in the world. That is a very considerable task.
Besides that, it is urged upon us that wherever there is misgovernment in any part of the world we are to throw all commercial considerations on one side, and however much our diplomatic action may injure our commerce we are to address ourselves to the foreign Government responsible for these territories and concentrate our energies on effecting improvements. We are to secure good government in Armenia. We are to secure improvements in the labour conditions of Portuguese West Africa. Wherever there is a plague spot in the world, as in the Putumayo, we are to 1441 address ourselves to cleaning it out. We are to induce Russia to alter the whole of her regulations with regard to passports to Jews; we are to take that, and every other question, in hand ourselves. We are to make it our special business to defend and uphold the integrity of Persia against all comers, and we are to secure the general reduction of armaments. Well, whether it be with regard to the general reduction of armaments or of upholding the independence and integrity of Persia, or of securing by diplomatic means the improvement and reform of commerce in different parts of the world, they are all perfectly legitimate objects, but when you consider them all together you measure not only the burden placed upon the Foreign Office, but you also must have some idea how in each particular department the work must be checked, and the consideration you have to give to other objects which naturally fall under the energies of the Foreign Office.
So much for general considerations. I do not propose to make a long speech or to go over any of the ground I went over last week. I will try and address myself to answering as shortly as I can some of the definite questions addressed to me in the Debate. I will take first the speech of the hon. Member for West Stafford (Mr. George Lloyd). He dealt with the commercial side of the Foreign Office. He complained that in Turkey, Persia, and China we had not got all the concessions that we ought to have obtained, and which, he said, could only be obtained by diplomatic support. He dealt with the question of railway concessions in Asia Minor, and he dealt only with railway concessions, I think, all through. Why did he take railway concessions? First, as regards Asia Minor, it was parcelled out into spheres of interest with regard to railway concessions long ago—many years ago. The French had their sphere, there was the German Anatolia concession and the Bagdad Railway concession, and these spheres of interest in Asia Minor practically covered the whole field of Asia Minor, with the exception of the enclave which was the basis of a British railway concession. There they were. Other countries have obtained railway concessions in certain parts of Asia Minor, which, more or less, did make for spheres of interest, so far as railway concessions are concerned. What is our claim in the Yangtse?
Mr. GEORGE LLOYD
There was no self-denying ordinance as regards railways or any other concessions whatever. Were we not free; or, if there was such a self-denying ordinance, which was our sphere?
§ Sir E. GREY
I must ask the hon. Member not to interrupt. I am trying to interpret his views as a whole. Why did he bring in the Yangtse region? We have not got any special title to the Yangtse, except that we have already got vested railway interests—British railway interests in that region, and we therefore hold that in that particular region where British railways already exist we have the right to further link up spheres of British railways. We claim that not on treaty ground, because there are no special treaty grounds, but on general grounds of the vested interests we have already, that these new railway concessions ought to be British concessions. That is our claim in the Yangtse. How am I to make that good in the Yangtse region if I am not to be allowed to act in the same way in Asia Minor, and if when the French or Germans have concessions I am to push in and say "No!" You cannot apply one principle in one part of the world and another in another. The railway concessions in Asia Minor were mapped out years ago. But railway concessions are not the only thing. The hon. Member asked me what laurels I had on my brow with regard to railway concessions. I would much rather if when we get commercial concessions, that they were given with a goodwill of foreign countries from which they were obtained and not by diplomatic pressure. And that is one of the reasons why, if I had laurels, I would much rather not wear them on my brow but put them in my pocket. As a matter of fact there is very considerable work of irrigation which will lead to considerable development which has been given to a British firm. There is a very large concession with regard to arsenals and so forth given to one of the great British firms, which certainly was not given under diplomatic pressure at all, but entirely by the Turkish Government themselves.
When you reckon up your view with regard to concessions—there are several concessions with regard to Asia Minor, not railway concessions, some of which I hope, at any rate, will mature—I really think British industries will make a very fair and considerable show in what is done. 1443 With regard to the criticism of our position in the navigation of the Euphrates and the Tigris, I believe when that agreement is published you will be only able to make out that our position has been impaired by enormously exaggerating what our position as regards navigation was before that agreement was made, and enormously under-rating the advantages which have been gained by that agreement. I will not add to what I have already said on this subject. I believe that our position under the new agreement will not only be intrinsically better at the moment than it was before, but it will have a security with regard to the future which it never had before at all.
With regard to the Mohammerah-Khoramabad Railway, the British company has still got option for that railway. The option is prolonged because the district has been so disturbed that it cannot be surveyed. The survey has not been able to be completed. I am all in favour of British concessions for that railway, but I am not in favour of sending a force into Persia to enable the survey to proceed, or in favour of pushing British trade or even British concessions in parts of the world by means which would require greater expenditure on our part to protect these particular concessions, and that particular trade than the trade itself is worth. That is not good business. The option for the Mohammerah-Khoramabad Railway does not expire, though the district is too disturbed to survey, and I think it is better that the survey should be delayed than that we should commit ourselves to new obligations and expenditure. Then I take the kindred point to that, a question which the hon. Member for Stirling asked with regard to the disturbances in the districts where oil concessions have been secured. I have not heard of those disturbances, and let me say again that I do not anticipate that the oil concession is going to lead to all sorts of interference on our part in the neutral zone. My hon. Friend said what is perfectly true, that the Russian Press is now making very unfavourable comments. I am not the least surprised. A section of our own Press here and a certain number of speeches have assumed that we shall certainly be led to do all sorts of things in the neutral zone that we have never contemplated doing, and, therefore, it is not surprising that the Russian Press has taken the matter up. All I can say is that the 1444 Anglo-Russian Agreement and the oil concession remain exactly as they were before.
With regard to the oil concessions, we are in exactly the same position as we are in regard to British trade in Southern Persia generally. If British trade in Southern Persia generally or anything else in Southern Persia were to lead to our having to take steps inconsistent with the independence and integrity of Persia or with the Anglo-Russian Agreement, that is a matter which we should bring under discussion with the Russian Government, as I have done before. I thought it might be possible two years ago, in the interest of British trade generally on the Bushire-Shira road, that we might have to ask the Persian Government to raise a Persian force under British officers to protect that road. I discussed the matter fully with the Russian Government at the time We still hold that that contingency might be avoided, and as a matter of fact that contingency has been avoided up to the present time by the use of Swedish officers. So that I do not anticipate for a moment that anything we have done in the way of oil concessions is going to lead to these alarming developments which my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling Burghs really fears, and if it does really lead to these things, or if British trade with Southern Persia generally does lead to these things, it is a matter which must be discussed with the Persian Government and the Russian Government.
With regard to Chinese railways, I was rather taken aback when the hon. Member for West Staffordshire said what he did about our position in the Yangtse region. I have had a note made, somewhat hurriedly, as to what our agreements actually are. Notes were exchanged between His Majesty's Government and the Chinese Government in 1898 by which the Chinese Government pledged themselves not to alienate the Yangtse region to another Power. That holds good still, and there has been no question of alienating the Yangtse region. That does not deal with the particular point of the concession. The Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank and the Deutsch Asiatische Bank made an agreement in 1895 for sharing loans in China, and financial operations for railways were to be the subject of special agreements. An additional clause was added in 1905 modifying the 1895 Agreement so as to allow greater 1445 freedom of action to either party. In 1898 an agreement was signed between the two groups defining the sphere of interest of the two countries regarding railway construction in China, leaving the Yangtse Valley to Great Britain and Shantung to Germany. Those were arrangements between two particular commercial groups; they are not like treaties between Governments. In 1909 followed the Huknang Railway Loan Agreement between the British, French, and Germans, to which the Americans were admitted in 1911. That produced various complications, and the whole matter of these arrangements, not between Governments, but between the different groups, French, German, and British in China, has been exceedingly complicated. All I can say without further notice is that I have been endeavouring recently and the groups have been endeavouring to disentangle some of these complications to get their hands more free, and we have now pending considerable railway concessions, and I believe the particular arrangement between the groups will now enable different countries—ourselves amongst others—to go ahead more freely in these parts of China in which they have particular interests.
It is quite true, as the hon. Member for West Staffordshire said, that there are some parts of the world where trade cannot make its way, at any rate in the form of concessions, without diplomatic support. There is another side. Diplomatic support does depend on the willingness of capital to come forward and invest. For some years, at any rate, British capital was most reluctant to invest in Turkey. It has not always been very favourably disposed to Chinese investment. If you consider the enormous investments of British capital which have been made in South America, and even in Central America, in recent years, you will see there are times when competitors from foreign countries other than ourselves have concentrated upon a part of the world where British capital is reluctant to come forward, not entirely because diplomatic support is not forthcoming, but because British capital is finding what it thinks more favourable opportunities in other parts of the world. When you find in any particular part of the world the foreign capital has been invested in the last four or five years to a greater extent than British capital, you cannot form a true picture without also considering what British capital has been 1446 doing in other parts of the world. Though I quite admit that you will find here and there capitalists who will say that they have been willing to come forward and have not had sufficient diplomatic support and so forth—cases which can only be dealt with individually on their merits—it is also true to say that I have at various times in recent years, thanks to Ministers abroad, had complaints that there were opportunities in the countries in which they were placed, of which British capital was showing itself slow to take advantage.
I do not put that forward as being a complete counter to what the hon. Member for Staffordshire said. I only put in that reluctance of British capital sometimes to come forward in certain parts of the world as a thing which has to be borne in mind, and which does sometimes really qualify criticisms which might be made of the want of diplomatic support. All I can say is that I regard it as our duty, wherever bonâ fide British capital is forthcoming in any part of the world, and is applying for concessions to which there are no valid political objections, that we should give it the utmost support we can, and endeavour to convince the foreign government concerned that it is to its interest as well as to our own to give the concessions for railways and so forth to British firms who carry them out at reasonable' prices and in the best possible way. I will not attempt to go into the Persian question further than just to answer my hon. Friend about the Persian Memorandum. We have not yet received in extenso. A telegraphic summary is all that we have got. I gather from that telegraphic summary that the points raised in it are mainly, if not entirely, points which we had already brought up for discussion between ourselves and the Russian Government before the Persian Memorandum existed at all. The hon. and gallant Member opposite (Colonel Yate) asked me again that question about the gauge of the Trans-Persian Railway. I can only repeat that we consulted with the Indian Government originally, and they stated that if a Trans-Persian Railway was to be made across Persia to the Indian frontier there should be a break of gauge where it entered the British sphere of interest. We have made no stipulation that it should not go to the sea without a break in the gauge. We have made a stipulation that if we apply for the option, it should not 1447 go beyond the Russian sphere of interest until we have been satisfied as to the conditions about alignment, the share we are to have in the railway outside the Russian sphere, and also the control of the port to which it may go, but we have not made it a condition that if the railway goes, for instance, from the North of Persia to a port like Bunder Abbas, there should be any break from the time it leaves Persia to the time it goes to that port.
I cannot say much to the hon. Member on the subject of Thibet, about which he asked me. It has been a great cause of complaint. China, just at the time when we had by an agreement with China and Russia come definitely under an obligation not to interfere with Thibet ourselves, when Russia had come under that same obligation, when Russia and ourselves had both come under an obligation to have hands off Thibet, and when, therefore, the whole position of China, as it existed up to 1906, was left absolutely secure in Thibet, when her suzerainty, or whatever she likes to call it, was perfectly secure, if she would only let it alone, and we had entered into a treaty which made it secure, she must needs invade Thibet, attempt to conquer it by force against the will of Thibet, turn it into an ordinary province of China and carry her aggressive action on Thibet so far that the Indian frontier begins to be unsettled. That really was a most unreasonable action of which we have great ground for complaint. But for her action there would be no talk of a new Convention there at all. The sole object of the new Convention was to get China to agree to certain boundaries, outside which Thibet should be autonomous and should not be interfered with, and by which China's suzerainty and China's position with regard to Thibet would remain as it was in the year 1906. I am sorry' to say China has not so far agreed to those boundaries, and has not signed that Convention, and I can say nothing more definitely about it at the present moment. I still hope that China may sign, and, if China does sign that Convention her position with regard to Thibet will be secured in the future, and the position of Thibet as an autonomous country will also be secured. If China does not sign that Convention and resorts to an aggressive policy with regard to China which disturbs the Indian frontier, the 1448 consequences must be disastrous to China, and there will, no doubt, be more serious trouble to us on the Indian frontier—I do not say in Thibet itself—that will require us to take matters up very seriously with the Government of China itself. The hon. Member opposite (Sir J. D. Rees) asked about the case of Mr. Williams in Mexico. I think it was a case of murder.
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Sir E. GREY
As far as I remember it was a case where a British subject was killed by the employés of the mine. It was not either of the contending factions in Mexico which was responsible, but it was a case of simple murder of a manager of a mine by the employés. It was a case which in a country not in an unsettled state we should get redress in the ordinary way, but at present we cannot get that redress, because there is no settled Government to bring people who act in that kind of way to justice. All I can say is that as soon as there is a Government in Mexico settled—we cannot hold either of the contending parties to blame for this particular murder—as soon as either of them or any party can really be held responsible for good order in Mexico we shall do our utmost to secure that the people responsible for this murder are brought to trial. That is all I can say in the very unsettled state of Mexico at the present moment. With regard to Brazil, my re collection is that one or two of the most substantial claims to which the hon. Member referred have recently been settled, not all, but one or two. We cannot use the question of the Brazilian Loan to bring pressure to bear upon Brazil in the same way as the French Government can. The French Government can say that the loan is not to have a quotation on the Bourse until certain claims have been settled. Here the Government have nothing to do with bringing out the loan, and I think it is a good thing on the whole that the Government have not. British financiers have to make their own arrangements with the Brazilian Government, and, if they choose to bring out a loan, if it is to their advantage to do so, we cannot go to them and ask them to withhold bringing out the loan until we have got some claims settled in which they have no particular interest themselves. British financiers run their own business quite independent of politics, and, if we attempt to interfere, they naturally 1449 consider that we come under some obligation. If they do some particular thing, either in granting or withholding a loan, to oblige the Foreign Office, then, of course, we come under some obligation, and I do not think that is a desirable system. It is much better we should leave them to deal with these matters of loans. I do not say there are no cases in which loans have a political character and in which financiers come to the Foreign Office and ask if there is any objection to them. But, generally speaking, and especially in South America, these are things in which the Foreign Office do not interfere.
§ Sir J. D. REES
Putting aside the question of loans, will the right hon. Gentleman make representations to the Brazilian Government on behalf of these claimants?
§ Sir E. GREY
Yes, we have been doing that, and I have no doubt that, in answer to a question, I shall be able to state definitely that one or two of the most important cases have been settled quite recently. I have been inquiring whether it is really the case that pending claims from other countries have been more favourably dealt with than our own. But at present I have no information on that point. The hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir G. Parker) spoke about the Labour question in Portuguese West Africa. There has been, I believe, a real improvement in the repatriation figures for last year. There has been a steady improvement, and the reports I have seen recently have produced on my mind the impression that, although a good deal remains to be done, the Portuguese Government are really trying to remove the abuses that have existed. But I do not ask the hon. Member to say anything encouraging on this matter until I publish a Blue Book which will justify encouraging or complimentary things being said. It ought to be borne in mind that when there has been agitation in this country, and any improvement is made, it does not help us to get some recognition of it, and I do not press for recognition in this case until the publication of the Blue Book justifies it. I may mention the question of political prisoners. There was a great agitation about the imprisonment of political prisoners, but it was not a thing with which the British Government could interfere. It was a purely internal affair. The prisoners have, I think, all been released, but I do not believe there has been much favourable comment or recognition of the fact that there 1450 has been a regular gaol delivery of political prisoners, and that they are no longer in prison and being treated in the way which gave rise to considerable agitation a short time ago.
Sir G. PARKER
Were any representations made to the Portuguese Government with regard to repatriation?
§ Sir E. GREY
We have been in constant communication with the Portuguese Government on various subjects, and a great many communications have passed.
§ Sir E. GREY
I do not think we have said much about that. Our view is that the question of the actual fund is one which concerns the Portuguese Government. The thing which is really important is whether repatriation is improving, and whether the people actually repatriated receive the treatment to which they are entitled. The actual question of the administration of the fund is a matter on which I have not considered what can be done, so long as the repatriation progresses satisfactorily and our conditions are fulfilled with regard to the people repatriated. I have only to deal with one or two questions raised by the hon. Member for North-West Durham (Mr. A. Williams). I did state the other day that two inspectors had been chosen to go to Armenia, and we know that they are to have the control of the gendarmerie, and that in connection with the administration of justice they will be given very wide powers. The Turkish Government have been setting to work with regard to reforms in Armenia in a way which shows a desire on their part to get good European inspectors, and to secure really good work from them after they have taken up their duties. They are already in Turkey discussing with the Turkish Government the practical working of a good scheme of government. Questions of a more general character, such as The Hague Conference, were also raised by my hon. Friend, and I will only say this: The United States Government made certain proposals as to that International Committee some time ago, as my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. 1451 Morrell) said. We replied also some time ago to them, stating generally that we sympathised with the objects of their proposals, and that, if we had any criticisms to make, it was that the body which they suggested to draw up the programme was somewhat too large, and that it would be better if we could get a rather smaller one. We have heard nothing more from them since we made that reply to the United States Government, and we have not heard at all what replies other Governments have made to the United States Government on the United States proposals, but I think this week—it is certainly not more than two or three days ago—we received from the Netherlands Government, which is, of course, the official channel in this matter, an invitation to send a representative to an International Committee, to meet early in June next year, to draw up this programme for the next Hague Conference. I think we only received that two or three days ago, and we have not yet replied to it, but, of course, we shall accept the invitation of the Netherlands Government to send a representative. We very likely shall make the same criticism as we did in writing to the United States, namely, that if the International Committee at The Hague is to consist of representatives from every country it would be a large and rather unwieldy body, and that it would be desirable, if possible, to arrange for some smaller body which could proceed more expeditiously with drawing up the programme.
The hon. Member asked what we were doing ourselves with our own Interdepartmental Committee. I will tell him the exact state of the case at the present moment. I think he has a question regarding it on the Paper for one day next week. I have already drafted an answer to that question. I have been in communication with my right hon. Friend the Attorney-General, who, I hope, will preside over this Committee. I think it is practically settled, and I have drafted an answer to my hon. Friend stating that is the case. I have sent it to my right hon. Friend the Attorney-General for his concurrence. If he concurs my hon. Friend will get the answer next week. That is what I hope will be the case—that my right hon. Friend will preside over our own Interdepartmental Committee here. I hope it will begin to sit as soon as my right hon. Friend 1452 is able to arrange for it. We shall not wait, but as soon as we can get the Committee together, and my right hon. Friend is sufficiently free from his other work to give his attention to it, it will begin to sit. The question of the capture of private property at sea is one that will, of course, come before that Committee.
The only question of general importance left which I have not touched is the question of expenditure upon armaments. It is a question of very great importance. I did not know it was to be raised—in fact, I did not know in particular what was going to be raised this afternoon—and I have nothing new that I can say upon it. I do not retract a word I said about the importance and gravity of the question or as regards its effect upon the world generally if the expenditure upon armaments continues to grow at the rate it has done in recent years. My hon. Friend (Mr. Ponsonby) says that if some Minister of Foreign Affairs in Europe would only express the feeling that there was on this subject he was sure there would be a great response. I have done my best to express it strongly, but I cannot say there has been much response from the other great European countries, and I wish I could speak more hopefully than I do. None of those who have spoken on this question have been able to analyse what really is the cause of the growth of the expenditure upon armaments, and I do not know that it can actually be analysed, but there is some great general cause. The method of direct suggestion for the reduction of expenditure has not been successful. That was tried at the last Hague Conference, and it certainly had no good result. Direct suggestions for the limitation of armaments made to a foreign country are regarded there as an attempt to limit and control their freedom of action with regard to their armaments and are resented accordingly, and it is obvious that it is no use trying the method of direct suggestion.
On the other hand, the method of making better relations between different countries, which I will call the method of indirect suggestion for the reduction of armaments, also has not been successful. There is no doubt, as far as the Great Powers of Europe are concerned, in some cases their relations have improved, and they came through the Balkan crisis with their relations having stood the strain of that crisis much better than anyone could have anti- 1453 cipated beforehand. Yet my hon. Friend says the increase still goes on. I demur to his saying that the initial responsibility is upon us. The most notable thing in the last year about the increase of expenditure upon armaments in Europe has not been the naval increase but the military increase. We are not responsible for that. It sometimes is the case that when nations are on the very best of terms their armaments go on increasing. It is very difficult to account for it, and it is very difficult to say how it can be checked. There is no remedy in the matter for the moment except to rely on the good sense of public opinion. At present all that we can do ourselves is to be very careful that we shall not be the provoking cause of the expenditure. We have endeavoured to keep our own expenditure within bounds, and I would deprecate my hon. Friend saying that when the First Lord of the Admiralty makes a suggestion in public with regard to a particular way in which expenditure might be reduced, that is a suggestion which should be found fault with in this country. My right hon. Friend certainly believes in the particular methods he has advocated, and he did it without the least intention of offending any other country, and I think the method which he used was not calculated to offend any other country. We shall do our best, whether through The Hague Conference or wherever it may be, to encourage anything which is likely to lead to a reduction of expenditure upon armaments. I will certainly oppose in every possible way the making of direct suggestions to other countries, so long as I think that they are likely to be resented as an attempt to put pressure upon them, and I would rather trust to what has not yet had much effect—to the indirect consequences of doing our best to promote good relations between ourselves and other Powers generally—trusting that in the long run that must have its effect, and that the pressure of public opinion must have its effect upon this question, about which I have spoken seriously in previous years, and in regard to which I do not think I should retract one word of what I have said.
§ Mr. DILLON
The right hon. Gentleman made an extraordinary statement in his opening remarks in drawing attention to the demands made on the Foreign Office. He said that there was a relation between 1454 these demands and the increase in armaments. Really I think the demands which have been made in the course of the Debate to-day have no more relation to the increase of armaments than they have with the procession of the equinoxes. All the various questions raised have had no influence whatever on the increase of armaments in this country. The right hon. Gentleman dealt in a more serious mood with this great and overshadowing question of the increase of armaments in Europe when he came to the conclusion of his speech. He had nothing to say but to repeat the pessimism which characterised all his previous speeches. In point of fact, the point of the right hon. Gentleman's speech is this: He despairs of any limit or stoppage of the enormous increase of armaments. He cannot analyse the cause, or rather he cannot indicate the cause, of the increase. When I speak of increase, I mean the accelerated increase which has marked recent years, and he looks to the good sense of the democracies of Europe
The democracies are, and have been for many years, bitterly incensed against this increase of armaments, but they have been utterly powerless to put the smallest check upon increase, and that is, I must say, a most melancholy reflection, and certainly a fact which justifies the pessimism expressed by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. The frightful increase of the last seven or eight years in this country has synchronised with the time when the party which represents the democracy has come into power. I must confess, after listening to the whole of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, that I cannot see any hope contained in that speech of any change in this abominable policy of increased armaments. I think that it is rather a melancholy thing, and a thing of which any Government would have some cause to be ashamed, that a man of the great ability and knowledge of the right hon. Gentleman, who has been for such a long time in the innermost counsels with respect to the national relations of Europe, should stand up at that table and profess utter inability to give any indication as to the cause of this horrible phenomenon, which is, to a very large extent, only a phenomenon of the last ten years. It would be ridiculous presumption for an outsider like myself or anybody belonging to the rank and file in this House, who has not got the information at the 1455 disposal of the right hon. Gentleman or of anyone who has control of the Foreign Office to attempt to supply what is so deficient in his speech, and what he confessed he was utterly unable to guess at. But, in my opinion, the cause of the horrible and apparently irresistible increase of armaments all round is to be found entirely in the change of European policy which has marked recent years.
When I came into this House first, and for twenty years afterwards, this country stood aloof from all European entanglements and alliances. I have been now for thirty-five years an interested listener to Foreign Office debates, and when the Foreign Secretary says that he can throw no light on the subject, nor even guess what is the cause of the great increases in armaments, it is a fact worth noting that up to that period it was a boast, which I frequently heard made by Foreign Ministers and Prime Ministers, that England stood completely detached and free from all entanglements of Continental policy. Was England thought less of then? Did she occupy a position of less influence in those days? I do not think she did. On the contrary, I think that her friendship was courted and sought after much more than it is now, and that her influence was greater. Indeed, it is worth considering that from the day when that policy was departed from, and when England recognised the horrible system by which Europe should be divided into great armed camps for the purpose of preserving what is known as the balance of power, from that hour this insane competition in armaments, as it has been described by the Chancellor of the Exchequer who has to find the money whether he likes it or not, assumed a character and a rapidity of expansion which had been entirely unknown in previous years. Even to a non-expert and ignorant outsider does this not suggest that there must be some connection between this change of policy and this sudden and enormous expansion of armaments. It has been said over and over again by successive English statesmen that armaments depend upon policy, and I believe that no truer sentence was ever uttered. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs says nothing of the sort. He does not know what they depend on. He can give us no information, and he can give us not the smallest hope. His previous speech—and he said 1456 this evening that he did not withdraw one word of what he had said—seemed to indicate his conviction that either of two things must happen. Either civilisation must go under and be submerged by this insane competition of armaments, or the democracies must themselves overthrow the Governments and take the matter into their own hands. That is the whole account—that is the state of things, and the Foreign Secretary can say nothing more encouraging than what he has said.
There is one point to which I wish to call attention. The right hon. Gentleman alluded to what was said by the hon. Member for Stirling Burghs, and, repeating what he said the other day, he stated that negotiations were going on as to the future interpretation or revision of the Anglo-Russian Agreement in relation to Persia. Another hon. Member who takes an interest in the question said the hon. Gentleman could not reasonably be expected to be informed or get any information regarding those negotiations until they were completed. From that sentiment I must strongly dissent. I think we are entitled, now that the whole question of the relations between Russia and this country in Persia are once more brought up for revision, to know before the negotiations are completed, and before any fresh agreement is entered into, the line that this country is taking. Really, I think it is a monstrous proposition that this country should proceed to negotiations, and that we should be informed, perhaps during the Recess, of what had been done in respect of the Anglo-Russian Convention.
§ Sir E. GREY
First of all, we are not discussing Persia in the revision of the Anglo-Russian Treaty. The question which was put to me to answer had reference to the Persian Memorandum which contained complaints as to the collection of taxes, and I said that we had taken up the discussion of those particular matters with the Russian Government before we received the Persian Memorandum. We are not discussing a new agreement, and we are discussing points such as the collection of taxes.
§ Mr. DILLON
I have in mind what the right hon. Gentleman said in the last Foreign Office Debate, when he stated—I am speaking from memory—that he undoubtedly recognised that, in regard to the Russification of Northern Persia, it 1457 was working unfavourably to this country, and he was reconsidering the whole subject.
§ Sir E. GREY
I was discussing with the Russian Government, not a new agreement, but the working of the present agreement, which I thought had been working rather disadvantageously to us lately.
§ Mr. DILLON
Surely if the Government are discussing the working of the present agreement, that happens to be the whole question. We who have been taking an interest in it for five years have all along contended that the Anglo-Russian Agreement was working unfavourably to this country, and I honestly confess that it was in my mind that it was also working unfavourably to Persia. I think it is rather a painful confession that the right hon. Gentleman has made. I think I am fully justified in discussing this question of the working of the Anglo-Russian Agreement in relation to Persia, and I say we ought to take into account how it will affect the interests of the Persian people as well as the interests of others, and that at some stage and before this country is committed to any fresh agreement or fresh understanding as to the working of this agreement, because the whole question is how the agreement works, that we in the House of Commons should be taken into confidence as to the views of the Government on this matter. The Secretary of State draws a distinction between the discussion of any fresh agreement and the discussion of the working of the present agreement. I really must say that is a distinction without a difference. It will be recollected by all hon. Members who have followed this question that the present agreement was entered into and published at a time when this House was not sitting over the heads or behind the backs of the Persian Government; and the moment the Persian Government heard of it they protested against it, and were not parties to the agreement, and never have been parties to it. The interpretation placed upon the agreement by the Persian Government has been fully borne out, and it is now practically admitted by the right hon. Gentleman that it has not worked out as even he and the British Government expected, and therefore is in that sense a failure. It is now proposed to open up negotiations, and negotiations are now practically in progress as to the working 1458 of that agreement. We must assume that that is an admission, and it stands to reason, on the part of the British Government, that the agreement has not worked well, and has not worked as they expected it to work. It has worked as the Persian Government always expected it would work, namely, adversely to their interests, and certainly the Persian Government ought to have some voice in the negotiations which are now going on between the English Government and the Russian Government as to this agreement which is concerned with the future fate of that country. I certainly do make that claim most earnestly to the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman stated the other day, on the subject of the oil in Persia, that he had not consulted the Russian Government. I must confess I was rather surprised to learn that.
To-day, when that matter was alluded to, and to my amazement, the right hon. Gentleman seemed to insinuate that the comments for the last week or two in the St. Petersburg Press were due to speeches made in this House. Really, I protest. In the first place, our speeches are not reported even in the "Times" newspaper. The right hon. Gentleman's speeches are, of course, reported, but the speeches of the ordinary Members of the rank and file are not reported, and to tell me that the speeches made by the hon. Member for Stirling or by myself or by other hon. Members who have raised unavailing, protests on this Persian question during the last few years are treated as international events in the St. Petersburg Press is really preposterous! What is the view taken by the Press of St. Petersburg? The "Novoe Vremya" declared the other day that the Anglo-Russian Convention was concluded when Russia was weak and feeble after the Japanese War, and that it was altogether in the interests of England, and was obtained by England at a time when she wanted to use Russia in her policy of the encirclement of Germany. That is a very fair specimen of the present tone of the Russian Press. They say that England, by her invasion of the mutual sphere in Persia in the matter of this oil enterprise, has broken the spirit of the Convention, and that they are entitled to press for some rearrangement in Russia's interest. It is absurd to endeavour to cast upon us, whose speeches never reach the newspapers, full responsibility for that state of feeling in St. 1459 Petersburg, which the most uninformed student of foreign affairs could easily see is the result of this oil enterprise. I quote that as an illustration of the gravity of the situation. Anybody could have foreseen that this oil contract would be availed of by the Russian Government and the Russian Press as an excuse for making fresh demands upon Persia. It has already been used for that purpose. Inasmuch as the Convention of 1907, which was concluded behind the back of Parliament and made public during the Recess, has proved to be a failure, we are entitled, before the country enters into fresh commitments, either as to a new Convention or as to the interpretation of the old Convention, to demand that the House of Commons shall know the facts and have an opportunity to pronounce judgment upon them.
Mr. WILLIAM REDMOND
I wish to ask a question with regard to the new arrangement contemplated in reference to the New Hebrides. I understand that a Conference is now taking place, and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman is unable to make a statement until that Conference has concluded. But possibly he can give some indication as to when the result of the Conference may be expected and in what position the Australian Government stand in the matter. Will they be consulted before any fresh arrangement is made I am aware that they have been consulted, but will representatives of Australia and New Zealand be taken into consultation by His Majesty's Government on every point before a fresh arrangement is come to?
§ Sir E. GREY
I think the Secretary of State for the Colonies has made a statement in regard to how far the Australian Government will be consulted. I know that he has been keeping very closely in touch with them, and I should like to refer to what he said before giving a more definite answer—except the general answer that we shall keep closely in touch with them. I cannot yet say when the Conference will be finished. Last week I made a statement in reference to the New Hebrides, and I do not think I can usefully add to it at present.
§ Mr. BAIRD
I wish to refer briefly to the pay and arrangements of the Consular service. In the case of the junior members especially there is nothing in the 1460 shape of local allowances. When a Secretary is transferred from Brussels to Buenos Ayres, for example, although the cost of living in one capital may be very much higher than in another, his pay is exactly the same. I know perfectly well because a colleague of mine spent two years' pay in getting his wife and family out to Buenos Ayres where he was only able to keep them for six months. This is a hardship, because a fair allowance should be made for expenses. Another point I want to mention is the question of house allowance for the Legations. It must not be forgotten that money has quite a different value in some of these foreign countries, and the house allowance is quite inadequate. Ministers have to spend in order to house themselves properly far more than is covered by the house allowance. More than that; it is a state of affairs which will get worse. It is a matter for serious consideration whether the system of giving house allowance at Buenos Ayres and Chili, and in Brazil, might not be abandoned in favour of buying a house which would be a permanent Legation House. It is a great expense to a Minister to have to move his things about, and perhaps not being able to find a suitable house. The prestige of the Mission is apt to suffer in consequence. If a proper house were bought the Government are not likely to lose by it, because property in all likelihood will go up in value. It is a real grievance, this, and might be taken into consideration. I know it is too late this year, but a promise or an indication of the consideration of the matter would be very greatly welcomed by many members of the Service.
There is another point: the question of the collection of commercial information. It was touched upon on broad lines by the right hon. Gentleman in his speech, but I wonder whether he is satisfied that the machinery at present existing for the collection of information abroad is as efficient as it might be? I know there is this great difficulty: you want a first-class commercial man, and you are not likely to get one, because you could not possibly go into the open market and get a man of such commercial ability as you will find in some of the big commercial concerns. Consequently you are forced to get a man of a different type, who is not a business man, but a man who is trained in commercial affairs to a certain extent. I do not see how this difficulty is to be got over, because I do not 1461 think that you can possibly expect a man who really has great commercial aptitude and commercial knowledge to forego the advantages which undoubtedly his talents can procure for him in the open market. There are, of course, advantages to him in the Civil Service. His future is assured, with a pension at the end of his work, even if his income is more modest than in commercial life. That is a human question into which I cannot go. There is another matter, the question of the Secretaries in Charge of Commercial Affairs. I rather think the right hon. Gentleman himself was responsible for the creation of that post. I remember quite well that I knew nothing about commercial affairs—I know nothing now—on being appointed Secretary in Charge of Commercial Affairs at Buenos Ayres. I received on my appointment a printed document covering four sheets of foolscap, very closely detailing the duties which I was supposed to discharge, and explaining the knowledge I was supposed to possess. If I had had such knowledge I should have been a millionaire by now, and possibly a Member of the House of Peers. In return for this business capacity and great knowledge we were offered the princely salary of £50! It would have the result of stimulating the keenness at any rate of the junior officers of the Diplomatic service in commercial matters to the benefit of the commericial community at home. I very much question whether any business man would pay very much attention to the information supplied by junior commercial secretaries. I would venture to suggest in that connection that we might do worse than follow the example of foreign countries. I believe that in South America it is the practice to employ a commercial man, in Buenos Ayres or other centres, who is a business man himself, who can supply information to the Legation, which he receives in the ordinary way of business, and which he thinks will be of benefit to his countrymen. That information is telegraphed, and it is earlier information than the ordinary diplomat is in the way of obtaining. I well remember how difficult it was to obtain information for this very valid reason. Business men say constantly, when asked questions, "I should be delighted to give you this information, but I have spent twenty-five years in this country building up my business and my trade, and, as a result, I am in a position to give this information, but I do not see why people not 1462 having my experience should profit by my experience, and therefore look upon this information as confidential; and no doubt the pigeon holes of the Foreign Office are full of information collected on these lines, which cannot be given to the commercial community.
It is much too wide a question to deal with at this late hour, and I will only ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, instead of employing these secretaries though it stimulates their keenness, the right hon. Gentleman would; think of the necessity of employing a proper expert who should be in a position; to afford to the commercial community of this country early information of probable developments which may lead to business being done and employment given here at home. I think you can only get that information when you employ a commercial man who should receive in addition to a retaining fee some percentage on the value of the orders he gets. That is the system in force in Germany, and undoubtedly the Germans in South America do consider they derive considerable benefit through the employment of that system for the purpose of obtaining information. It is far too late to go into the question of commercial information. That would entail raising the whole question of the composition and work of the Consular service I shall not enter into that, but perhaps the right hon. Gentleman could give us one or two words as to the views he holds, upon this subject of the housing of diplomats, the paying of local allowances, which would remove very great hardships in those far off places where the cost of living is very high, and also the question of changing this system of secretaries for commercial affairs and employing in their place men who have commercial experience and training obtained from a business life, and who would be better able to obtain information, which would be of use to people doing business in this country, and who, furthermore, would have the advantage, being a business man, of being able to supply the information in a form and at a time which he knew would be valuable to his fellow countrymen.
§ Sir E. GREY
With regard to the allowances for special places we have, of course, just lately arranged to improve the terms of the Consular service. I must look into matters before I can promise to go to the Treasury again with anything that 1463 involves a considerable increase of expenditure with regard to the Diplomatic service. I was not quite sure how much expenditure will be involved. I am quite aware that in certain places there are hardships. There are some places I know where the financial burdens are difficult and others where they are not so heavy. But I will consider the whole question and look into it to see to what extent the grievances exist, and whether they can be met without a very large increase of expenditure. With regard to purchasing houses I agree that it would be better if we had purchased them some time ago, especially in some of the countries where the development of commerce has been very rapid. I should not however like to displace the system of giving these little extra encouragements. This is a very important branch of the service, and it is desirable to have certain sums earmarked for particular commercial services so that the people who go about these diplomatic services may carry some special knowledge with them. Whether that can be supplemented in such a way as the hon. Member suggests by employing outside assistance in the sense of railway commercial experts I cannot say without consideration. The hon. Member says that the Germans have a scheme of that kind. I will inquire as to what that scheme is. A man who has really been successful and is a real expert in trade is not likely to give public information which may be of use to his trade rivals. General information he may give; special information you could get from him, but very likely that information would be exceedingly useful to his trade rivals. It occurs to me that that is a primâ facie difficulty, but I will look into the question and see what the German system is and whether it is one of which we could make use.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolution to be reported upon Monday next (13th July); Committee to sit again upon Monday next.