THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (THE MARQUESS OF CREWE)
My Lords, the House will remember that my noble friend behind me, Lord Haversham, at our meeting on Tuesday, expressed the hope that a statement on foreign affairs might be made in this House concurrently with that which has just been made by the Secretary of State in the other, and that desire of his was enforced by speeches from other noble Lords. Accordingly I am prepared to make a few observations. But before doing so I desire to express the hope that those remarks may not lead to anything in the nature of a regular debate on the situation. There are particular reasons which make it undesirable that, such a debate should take place at this moment. The position, as your Lordships are well aware, in South-East Europe at this moment is one of crisis and difficulty, and although one might be sure that no noble Lord in this House would say a word which in his belief could make that crisis more acute or add to that difficulty, yet a mere discussion or any attempt to place an interpretation upon a statement made by Ministers is liable—we cannot deny it—to create some possibilities of misapprehension, not only here at home, but in other parts of the world. Although, of course, we do not for a moment dispute the right and the duty of Parliament to discuss and, if necessary, to criticise the action of the Foreign Office in all matters, yet we do feel most definitely that at this moment such a discussion and such possible criticism could hardly be of service to the cause which all noble Lords have at heart, and might be productive of actual mischief.
It is obvious to us all that the situation has been gravely modified during the last few weeks by the adhesion of Bulgaria to the cause of Germany and Turkey. The collocation of Bulgaria with Turkey might be calculated to cause something like mirth to a cynic, but it can only cause profound sorrow to those who remember all the sacrifices, the hopes that have been entertained, and the ideals that have been indulged in during the last five-and-thirty years of the history of Bulgaria. It is necessary, my Lords, to recall to your recollection the circumstances, dating from the very first days of the war, when Serbia became a prominent and active figure in the struggle against the Central Powers. Ever since then the Allies have been pre- 1046 occupied by the situation which was left in South-East Europe by the settlement of 1913. I use the word "settlement"; but the settlement of 1913 in its results was unsettling. The Treaty of Bucharest left Serbia without any direct access to the sea, which is what she most desired and stood in need of; it left Bulgaria profoundly discontented by the outcome of the second Balkan War; and it left Greece nervous as to what the future might bring forth on her northern boundaries.
We, the Allies, all through have had in our minds and have cherished the hope of the promotion of Balkan union. And I may say here that the State of Rumania, although not strictly speaking one of the Balkan States, has shown herself prepared to play a part, even at some sacrifice to herself, in promoting that Balkan union. Our guiding principle, as is well known to everybody in this country, has been as far as possible to encourage the principle of nationality in Smith-East Europe. Where the inhabitants of a district, whether by origin, whether by language, or whether by faith, appeared to belong in the main to one of the great racial divisions of the Balkan Peninsula, we have desired that that territory should be added, where possible, to the State representing that race. That in itself is surely a worthy object, and whatever criticism may at any time be directed against our conduct of foreign affairs, I cannot believe that the Government or the Foreign Office will ever be found expressing repentance fur having endeavoured to carry that idea into effect, or for trying to promote to the best of our power the independence of the several Balkan nations and to foster feelings of mutual friendship among them.
The obstacles and difficulties, of course, have been and are enormous. Take, for instance, the country of Macedonia. In Macedonia there are Moslems—and in this connection it is important to note that although there is, of course, a Turkish race, yet Islam is not a matter of race, but is an ecclesiastic polity altogether independent of racial origin—there are many Bulgars, there are also many Albanians, there are Greeks, there are a certain number of Valachs, and in Northern Macedonia there is a preponderance of Serbians. Add to this mixture of races the historical claims to the possession of particular districts advanced by one or another, dependent often upon past contests and bygone 1047 victories; add the custom which obtained for a number of years of a wholesale migration of peoples according as the ruling power of a particular district or neighbourhood changed; add also the fact that in some cases large bodies of people have been assimilated through conquest to a race to which they do not themselves belong; consider further that faction fighting and border raiding have entered into the normal life of the country for hundreds of years past—and we can then appreciate what the difficulties are of bringing about an agreed settlement of territorial acquisition either in Macedonia, which I have taken as an instance, or in many other parts of the Balkan Peninsula. Further than this, again, each country has been unwilling or unable to depend upon the prospect of obtaining its desires at the conclusion of the war, but has felt itself dissatisfied by anything short of immediate actual occupation of at any rate part of what it has coveted. It is indeed hard, my Lords, bearing all these things in mind, to reach a conclusion of the kind that we have desired—namely, that of a Balkan agreement founded upon some interchange of territory, some sacrifices to be made by each country in turn, hard sacrifices in not a few cases—but yet, as I have already said, we do not repent of having worked our hardest in that direction. There has been on the part of not a few of the countries a hearty desire to surmount those difficulties and to make those sacrifices.
Let us now look at the other side, and at the ideals that are held by those to whom we are opposed. It is easy to see from what I have said that there are a number of cards, which might seem to be winning cards, in the hands of those who are playing a precisely opposite game to ours; or, to use a different metaphor, that those who have desired not to sow seed for a harvest but to sow tares find, in South-East Europe, a soil favourable for their enterprise. Germany, Austria, and Turkey, for ever so many years past, have gone to work in precisely that opposite way. Their object, their purpose, has been not to unite but to divide the Balkan States. They have gone on the bad old principle of Divide et impera. We all remember the operations of the ex-Sultan, Abdul Hamid, in that direction, and the heirs of his power have proved themselves not lees adept and not less enthusiastic in the same sense. It has also been the regular purpose of the Austrian Government, and if possible even more of 1048 the German Government, to promote dissension and not union in South-East Europe; and now we have to note, with regret, that Bulgaria has taken her part in the same enterprise, and is prepared, apparently, to play an active part in it. We did not originally assume that Bulgaria was or need be hostile to us in the first instance. Were we wrong in refusing to make that assumption? I do not believe that we were, and I do not believe that even now, if the real opinion of the people of Bulgaria could be taken, they desire to be hostile to the Allies. But it is not only true, as has often been said, that people get the Government which they deserve, but they must be assumed to support the acts of the Government which they actually have; and, therefore, on the people no less than on the Government must rest the responsibility for those acts and also the consequences which may follow them.
And now, my Lords, we see Serbia subjected to third invasion. She defeated the first invasion by Austria in the quite early days of the war. Austria withdrew from what she described, as a punitive expedition, which had resulted in heavy loss to herself without inflicting any punishment to speak of upon Serbia. Then I am sure we all maintain fresh in our memories the story of the second Serbian invasion, when no less than seven Austrian army corps, after penetrating some distance into the country, were hurled back with immense losses in the field and in prisoners, when that Austrian Field Army was practically broken up, and when the events of the first fortnight in December last produced one of the finest chapters, not merely in this war, but in any war that has ever been fought in any part of the world. Now Serbia finds herself confronted not only by a third Austrian invasion, but by a number of German troops, with Bulgaria hostile on her flank. In those days, at the time of the second invasion, it was notoriously and physically impossible for us to render aasistance to Serbia, and we could do nothing but express our admiration of her wonderful efforts.
Now it is important to note the attitude and the purpose of the Greek nation and the Greek Government in view of obligations which she has towards Serbia. The exact interpretation of those obligations has been made by Greek public men in and out of office. Their speeches can be 1049 read in newspapers, and it would serve no useful purpose to say anything on them here. But I may, I think, venture to paint out this—that from what I have just said of the different objects entertained by us and our Allies and by the Central powers and Turkey, it must be concluded that the interests of Greece are precisely identical with those of Serbia. It has been our desire so far as possible to assist in maintaining those interests, and with that purpose we sent as promptly as we could such material help as Was available in the from of a contingent of French troops and one of British troops, which were disembarked at Salonika. Your Lordships will remember that the Greek Army was mobilised—perhaps almost necessarily mobilised—after the Bulgarian mobilisation, and when the first contingent of Allied troops arrived at Salonika the Greek Government entered a formal protest against their landing there. But as they have continued to disembark, facilities for that continued disembarkation have been given, and the reception of the force on Greek soil has been such as we could have desired. This need in no way be marvelled at. Greece and Serbia are united by a Treaty, and, Serbia now being assailed by Bulgaria, to grant facilities for the Allies to give such help as they could to Serbia could scarcely be unwelcome to Greece. As you will have seen from the newspapers, we have been acting throughout in military concert with France, and so soon as the co-operation of a Russian force is available, that will be forthcoming.
As regards the future, I think I cannot do better than quote textually some words which have been used this afternoon by the Secretary of State in the House of Commons. My right hon. fend said—
"The military measures that are best adapted to meet the requirements of the new situation in the Near East are the subject of continuous attention by the military authorities of the Allies, and will be taken in closest consultation with each other. It is not in my province, and if it were it would not be expedient, to make any public disclosure of military plans. I can only say that they will, we believe, be based on principles of sound strategy."
I do not desire to add a single syllable to that statement by my right hon. friend. But in conclusion I would merely say this, 1050 that this untoward event of the adhesion of Bulgaria to the cause of Germany and Turkey, and this renewed attempt to crush Serbia before a marked change can take place in any theatre of the war will only serve to make sterner and fiercer the determination of the Allies to carry through the war to a definite conclusion of absolute victory, whatever the time needed for that may be and whatever the cost. We feel most distinctly, my Lords, that nothing has occurred in any part of the world to weaken that resolve, and we will maintain that resolve to the end.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
My Lords, I think my noble friend the Leader of the House will feel that he has given great satisfaction to your Lordships in making the statement with which he has just favoured us. As my noble friend has complied with the request which I ventured to make on Tuesday, I will now do my best to comply with request which he makes to me and to other noble Lords—namely, not to enter into debate. I have no desire to do so. I see the impropriety and great inconvenience of entering upon anything like controversial or debating ground. But I would point out to my noble friend, in passing, that in other Chambers not very far off I mean in France—very great freedom is allowed, and arguments are used there with great frankness and plainness. Therefore the objection of my noble friend is not altogether weighty, but I gladly comply with his request, all the more because I feel sure that by and by—it may be very soon—if any noble Lord here wishes to raise the interesting points—historic, diplomatic, economic—which my noble friend has come near to, the noble Marquess will do his best to give an opportunity for such a discussion.
My noble friend called this new Serbian campaign and the Balkan alliance with Germany which produced it "an untoward event." I think it is much more than untoward. It is the opening of a new set of military operations. It may be not only an untoward but an extremely momentous event; and my own crude expectation is that it is only too likely to prove so. I wish to say this one thing which I believe is present—my noble friend did not touch upon it—to everybody in the country. People are asking themselves—I confess I ask myself—whether, by adding a Balkan campaign to our operations in France and 1051 to the enterprise, however it is to be called, in the Dardanelles, we are not by this proceeding dissipating and dispersing the military forces which we need to achieve effective success in what is, after all, say what you will, the decisive field—I mean the Western front. People are likely to ask what is the use of anxious language about inadequate recruiting on one hand and the setting up of a new, vast, and unmeasured demand on the other.
I am very careful not to ask a single question the answer to which might be of use to the enemy or a breach of confidence with our friends; but I wish we could have heard, first, what is the number of the Allied forces that are to be used in this Balkan campaign; secondly, what are the terms of Russian co-operation; thirdly, what are the terms of Italian co-operation; and, lastly, whether anything could have been said to us as to the prospect of Rumanian and Greek adhesion, because everybody can see that the adhesion of those two Balkan Powers would make an enormous difference in our military situation. I am not going to say more now. I hope I have not abused the opportunity which I asked the noble Marquess to give us, and if anything more can be said from the Front Ministerial Bench I, for one, should be grateful.
§ THE EARL OF CROMER
My Lords, I am certainly not going to say one word by way of initiating discussion on this subject, but I should like to ask a question, prefacing it by saying that if there are any good public reasons for not answering it I have no wish to press for a reply. What I should like to ask is whether anything definite is known as to the terms that Bulgaria has made with Germany. It has been stated definitely in a Greek newspaper which is understood to represent the views of M. Venezelos that a definite Treaty was made last July between Bulgaria and Germany, and that the terms of the Treaty involve practically the extension of Bulgaria at the expense of Greece and Serbia—in fact, almost the wiping out of Serbia as an independent State. If anything is known on this point I should say that in the general interests, and particularly in those of the Greek population, it is very desirable to give it the utmost publicity.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, I fear that I cannot give the noble Earl any precise information on the subject of 1052 his question. He has stated with perfect accuracy that a statement has been made of the existence of this Treaty between Bulgaria and Germany. I have also seen it stated that the Bulgarian Government say that no such Treaty exists of the kind which has been mentioned. Therefore for the present, at any rate, it is the word of one set of people against the word of another. I am afraid that I cannot give the noble Earl any more information than this. It is undoubtedly the well-founded belief of a large number of well-informed people that an agreement of that kind does exist, although its precise terms have, of course, not been in any way made public.
§ LORD ST. DAVIDS
MY Lords, the noble Marquess has made a very interesting statement, and has asked us in the public interests not to comment upon it. I am sure that every one in this House will respond to that desire, and for myself I will not say one word upon the subject of affairs in the Balkan Peninsula. But as regards the remarks of the noble Marquess, there is one observation I should like to make. We are not allowed much criticism of the Foreign Office or of anything. Only a few nights ago my noble friend Lord Strachie tried to raise a discussion on the management of the affairs of the country by the Foreign Office, and the noble Marquess asked him to refrain, which naturally he at once did. In times like these, when we are asked not to speak we remain silent. But I would say this to the Government, when time after time they deprecate criticism, that there is only one thing that can justify it, and that is success.
§ LORD DEVONPORT
My Lords, I desire more or less to associate myself with what was said by the noble Lord who has just sat down with reference to abstaining from criticism. The appeal made to us to-day by the noble Marquess cannot be gainsaid, but I think we are entitled to ask whether his request does not have a limited application. We should be foregoing entirely the functions of Parliament were we to abstain altogether from criticism of the momentous affairs that are occurring, and for myself I certainly reserve my right to raise or to take part in a discussion on this matter upon an occasion that will not be embarrassing to the Government, as I understand would be the case were we to develop the statement made by the noble Marquess into a general 1053 debate at the present juncture. What I fear in connection with this abstention from debate is that this policy of repression will be carried to such an extent that sonic day it will end in an explosion. The public mind is becoming alarmed. It is disappointed, of course, as is the Government itself, as the noble Marquess has admitted, in connection with affairs in the Balkans; and if discussion is to be repressed time after time I think the situation, not only as regards the public itself but as regards public men, or some of them, will get out of hand. I hope that all that the Government desires is that we should abstain at this particular juncture, and that it is not expected of us that we should continue to forego our rights of criticising and asking for explanations regarding a situation that is causing us much concern.
§ VISCOUNT MILNER
My Lords, I should like to associate myself with the remarks which have just fallen from the noble Lord opposite. I am sure the noble Marquess who leads the House will presently rise and tell its that the Government have not the least desire to escape criticism, and that at the proper time, the time when it will not be injurious to the interests of the country, they will be prepared to welcome debate and full consideration of all their actions. It is only at this particular juncture that debate is undesirable and may be mischievous. The war has lasted for fourteen months, and I cannot remember any juncture during the whole fourteen months in which I have not heard something of the same kind. Debate is always unwelcome.
I want to know what we meet here for in the present circumstances. We do not meet here for legislation. If there is any object in our meeting at all it must be one of two things, either information or counsel; either to obtain information that one may be enlightened, and the public may be enlightened, about affairs of the greatest moment, with regard to which we are all feeling the deepest anxiety, or else that suggestions may be made here which may be of some use in the future conduct of national policy. If it is not one or other of these objects for which we meet, we might all be better employed somewhere else. May I be allowed to say, without appearing to indulge in carping criticism, that if we came here to-day for information, noble Lords who are enlightened in the 1054 sense of information of any kind that has been communicated to us to-day must have been curiously ignorant of the state of affairs in South-East Europe, must have abstained for a long period from reading their daily newspapers. Obviously we did not derive from the statement made in this House more information than we already possessed. I think the modicum of information here vouchsafed to us represents something less than that which is possessed by any intelligent person in the country who has tried to follow affairs. I remember that on the last occasion that I listened to a Government statement in this House I was almost tempted to make the same remark. I am sorry now I did not do so. It was on the occasion when a few weeks ago the Secretary of State for War gave us a review of the position of affairs especially from the military point of view. As far as a statement of facts was concerned this was belated, and so far as a forecast was concerned it has not at any rate yet been verified by results. We are not here to get any information—that is evident. We do not get any. Then are we here for counsel? It is very difficult to make any suggestions in face of appeals like the one made to us to-clay by the noble Marquess. And yet I cannot entirely abstain front commenting upon one or two points in the situation.
I am not vain enough to suppose that my advice will count for very much, but I should like to give expression On this occasion, and before it is too late, to certain considerations and anxieties which to my mind, and to the mind of many people in this country, are worthy of the attention of the Government. The noble Viscount, Lord Morley, pointed out the anxiety with which we cannot help regarding the possible opening of a new and possibly large campaign at a time when our resources are strained to the uttermost to keep up the campaigns in which we are already engaged. There is another point in that connection which seems to me to be of even equal moment How about the enterprise, as the noble Viscount calls it, at the Dardanelles? It is very difficult and delicate question to discuss, and I fully admit that no man can form a really sound opinion upon it without possessing knowledge of many details which must be known to the Government, but which certainly are not known to me, and probably are not known to other noble Lords. I am not 1055 attempting to say what is the right policy to pursue in that matter. What I am sure about is that there is no time to be lost in deciding what policy is to be pursued; and while I do not attempt to touch upon the strategic situation, may I be allowed to refer very briefly to arguments which I have heard so frequently and in quarters so authoritative that I cannot help thinking they must be weighing to some extent on His Majesty's Government and yet are arguments which in my humble opinion appear to be extremely dangerous.
To speak quite frankly, I should have thought that whatever evils had resulted from the disastrous developments in the Balkans there was at least this advantage, that it might have given us an opportunity which may never recur of withdrawing from an enterprise the successful completion of which is now hopeless. There may be, I will admit, reasons known only to His Majesty's Government why that course cannot be pursued. I do not want to press for those reasons, but when I hear statements that it would be a terrible thing to abandon our Dardanelles adventure because this would have so bad an effect in Egypt, in India, upon our prestige in the East, I cannot help asking myself whether it will not have a worse effect if we persist in that enterprise and it ends in complete disaster. These are considerations which really ought to be urged at a time like this, and if any one says to me, "Oh, yes, but what a terrible thing it is to refer to these possibilities," I must say, my Lords, that I do not think any harm is done by frankly facing a situation of that kind, even in a public speech, especially when the discussion is raised by a person in my position, not occupying any official position, not representing an official Opposition, a mere "wild man" in politics, if I may use a common expression. I feel deeply the delicacy of the situation and the difficulty of dealing with these matters, but I feel also that we have gone on too long living, so to speak, from hand to mouth in the conduct of our policy and in our strategy in this war, and that a fearful responsibility rests upon us now—upon those who have been silent for months, though often doubting whether they were justified in being absolutely silent—if there is anything we can say which may lead to the Government taking a decided line while there is yet time, and we do not say it, and matters drift on and afterwards we have cause to regret our silence.
1056 I have only one further remark to make. The noble Marquess reviewed the difficulties of the Balkan situation. I fully appreciate the difficulties and the obstacles, as he described them, which confronted His Majesty's Government in their policy. I think we also fully appreciate the good intentions by which the Government were animated. But it is really very difficult not to feel some disappointment in the result when we consider what the cards were which the two parties which have been struggling for supremacy in Balkan policy respectively held. After all, if you take the independent States of the Balkans—Greece, Rumania, Bulgaria acid Serbia—they had all reason to fear our enemies, every one of them. Germany, Austria, Turkey alike were States the hostile, the evil, intentions of which towards the independence of one or all of the Balkan States were calculated to make their advances be regarded with the greatest suspicion. Whatever the difficulties of our position were, we had this immense advantage, that we were not regarded by any one of those States as possible aggressors. We had a clean sheet, a clean record, especially of late years, in our relations with them. We had befriended them. We could not be suspected of having an axe of our own to grind in the Balkans. It does seem disappointing that when we started, no doubt with great difficulties to contend against, but with that great advantage, we should find that one after another of these States are falling away from the Power which of all others had the best character from their point of view and had the least bad record in the past where they were concerned, and are gradually drifting away into the orbit of the States whom they would, in view of the past, naturally regard with the greatest suspicion. We cannot discuss the details of this unfortunate development. We do not know them. We can only judge by results. The results are profoundly disappointing.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, the speech to which we have just listened is, I venture to think, not a had illustration of the inconvenience which is bound to result from the kind of discussion which is taking place here to-night. That speech is remarkable above all for this—that my noble friend, speaking with all his great weight of authority, made to His Majesty's Government this notable suggestion, that they should aban- 1057 don the Gallipoli Peninsula and transfer their troops to some other theatre. I dare say I could find a great deal to say upon that subject, but my noble friend must be aware that it would be out of the question for me or for any one else who sits upon this Bench to get up in your Lordships' House this evening and, as the outcome of the calm and dispassionate review of the situation given to the House by the noble Marquess who leads it, to announce that His Majesty's Government had taken a resolve either for or against the proposal of my noble friend.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Exactly. We are therefore put in the Lion of having to allow that notable suggestion to go by without any definite expression of opinion of our own with regard to it. But I really rose more for the purpose of saying two or three words in reply to those noble Lords who have protested—I think quite naturally—against the idea that we are in any sense to debar them from full opportunities of criticising our conduct and discussing the whole of the questions which arise in connection with Balkan affairs. We make no such claim. We quite understand that if we have made that request upon the present occasion it is to be one, as I think was said by the noble Lord behind me, of strictly limited application. We fully admit that you have a eight to raise these questions and to call upon us at the proper time for full explanations. But I venture to urge as strongly as I can that at this moment it would be most improper and unpatriotic to press us for such explanations.
Your Lordships know enough of the present situation to perceive that at this time it would not be reasonable to press us further. The present situation is novel and critical. There are new developments and new factors. The entrance of Bulgaria into the field as one of our opponents is a new and certainly a most unfortunate factor. The attitude of Greece, not yet quite fully defined, is another new factor in the calculation. But, quite apart from that, look at the military situation. It was touched upon with great force by the noble Viscount on the Cross Benches (Lord Morley). He pointed out that in addition to our vast commitments in the Western theatre of war, and in addition to our commitments in the Dardanelles, we are now, to some extent at any rate, involved in military operations 1058 in Greece. That creates, I venture to think, a new military situation and a very grave one; and your Lordships have already been told by the noble Marquess who sits behind me that that situation is now being examined in all its bearings by the military authorities of the Allies. While that examination is proceeding, and while the strategical aspects of the case are being dealt with by those who are competent to judge of them, I venture to submit as strongly as I can that it would be most unfortunate that we in this House should pass judgment upon those incidents or attempt to reveal in anticipation what is likely to be the future conduct of the operations in which we are now engaged.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
My Lords, I think that everybody will realise the force of the considerations which prompted the noble Marquess opposite to make the reply he has to my noble friend Lord Milner, but I trust. I may be permitted to make one suggestion. It is obvious, from what has fallen from various noble Lords this afternoon, that in these grave matters there are circumstances in which at all events there are doubts which they would desire to have removed, and that there are possibilities of their being able to give counsel not otherwise accessible to His Majesty's Government. I may be allowed to recall to your Lordships that earlier this year there have been occasions when very important points have been raised, and when the Government took refuge in a somewhat similar appeal that they should not be pressed on the ground of public interest. I refer especially, without going into the details, to certain debates which were raised in the month of January on points with which it was then earnestly desired we should not proceed, but which have since become matters of common discussion; and it is quite obvious that had they been taken up as suggested at that time a great deal of difficulty would have been saved. While fully entering into the view of the Government, I would make this one observation. What has fallen from my noble friend Lord Milner, whether it is wise for us to discuss it now or not, undoubtedly does represent an immense amount of public anxiety at this moment, and if this very difficult situation should continue I would ask whether the Government would not consider the possibility of allowing one discussion in secret session, which would at least give an opportunity—
§ LORD COURTNEY OF PENWITH indicated dissent.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
Lord Courtney shakes his head. I know there are objections to that course. But you have, after all, to decide between two difficulties—either that independent members of this House must not criticise or counsel the Government at all or that you must give that opportunity of doing so in a perfectly friendly spirit without the usual publicity. It would, of course, be an innovation, and I do not press it. But I ask the Government at all events to consider whether that is not a means of getting out of a situation which certainly is one of unusual difficulty at the present time.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, as has been made clear in the recent discussions which we have had on the question of Order there is no right, except by leave, to speak again when there is no Motion before the House; but as the noble Viscount has raised the particular point of a new form of debate in this House it is well that I should say a word on the general question. I might point out, what I think does not entirely seem to have occurred to noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, that it always happens—it is bound to happen—that the very moment at which public curiosity is most excited, and the very moment at which either here or in another place there is the greatest keenness and the strongest desire to ask questions with a view of gratifying a quite natural curiosity, that is the very moment at which it is of necessity most impossible for the responsible Government to give the information desired. People do not now ask questions about events that happened seven, or eight, or nine months ago. In some cases there might be objections to giving full explanation even of events which occurred so long since. There might be strong military or naval objections, or possibly in some cases political objections. But, however that may be, there is no strong evident public desire to ask such questions; and the questions which noble Lords and hon. Members and correspondents in the Press desire to put are in almost all cases the questions which on public grounds it is least possible to answer.
My noble friend behind me, in making his very reasonable appeal for a general 1060 liberty of discussion, spoke of the possibility of questions embarrassing the Government. Perhaps I may be allowed to say that that has nothing whatever to do with it. There is no question of whether or not the Government are embarrassed. We do not expect any one to care whether, as a Government, we are embarrassed or not. What does matter is the effect, either abroad or at home, of discussing particular matters at particular moments. I suppose it is only possible for those who, from the offices they hold, have access to information not possessed by everybody to know what an infinite amount of harm can be done, is done, and has been done in particular cases by indiscriminate discussion, whether in Parliament or in the newspapers. The House, I dare say, is more willing to believe that in some cases newspaper discussions have done an amount of injury which can hardly be exaggerated. Far greater care is no doubt taken in both Houses of Parliament to avoid inflicting harm of that kind. But we are able to say on our consciences that a Parliamentary discussion may do at least as much injury, and in some cases it is liable to do more, because the weight that is attached to an observation by a distinguished public man is probably greater than that which attaches to a statement even in the most eminent of newspapers. And it is, perhaps, vain to repeat, because the noble Viscount opposite regarded it as something like a regular evasion, that we do not want to put a permanent closure upon discussion.
I have endeavoured to explain why it is that we have, on more than one occasion, been obliged to appeal against discussion. It is because, as I say, the moment chosen is the most inconvenient, almost by the nature of the case. As regards the proposition made by the noble Viscount opposite, we have not had time to consider the possibility of a session of either House being held in private, which would be, of course, of a totally different character from an ordinary Parliamentary sitting. But, speaking for myself, I am bound to say that the idea does not appeal to me as a feasible one. I believe that the great body of opinion in both Houses, and certainly outside, would be strongly against any such expedient. It would be merely regarded as a kind of debating society meeting, producing, I dare say, speeches of great importance and interest in themselves; 1061 but, after all, it is open to any noble Lord or Member of Parliament to bring his views not merely before the Government but before the public generally by the usual channels, through the Press or by speeches outside, to precisely as much purpose as—indeed I should have thought to more purpose than—would be effected by a private discussion of the kind suggested. And I am afraid that the noble Viscount would find, so far as the Government were concerned, that the amount of what is necessarily secret information which would be stated at a meeting of that kind would not be substantially greater than that which he is able to obtain at an open meeting of the House.
§ LORD RIBBLESDALE
My Lords, I am not going to touch upon the question of a secret session. I should shake my head to anything of that sort just as emphatically as did Lord Courtney. But I am bound to say, having listened to this debate, that I think it would require a Bernard Shaw to know what the noble Marquess meant by what he said just now. He began by stating that no questions were to be asked in this House when the situation was interesting. As I understood him, he did not mind going back to something that had happened seven or eight months ago; the Government would be prepared to give us some information about that; and we could give expression to what we might have to say about it by way of counsel. But it is no good talking about spilt milk. Discussion has been deprecated because the situation is said to be delicate. The situation may be delicate for His Majesty's Government—in fact, I think it is very delicate for them. A great many people think that things are not going well. I am certain that the Government are only putting off the inevitable day, for sooner or later these questions will have to be gone into. The noble Marquess below me was good enough to say he made no claim that no questions should be asked and no information given. I should think not. During the last few months the constant appeal has been put to the Government, "When are you going to get a little more comfortably into the saddle?" I do not agree with everything that has been said to-night, but I associate myself in principle with what fell from Lord Milner. He asked a very pertinent question. Here is a situation of great difficulty with regard to Bulgaria. You started on the venture 1062 in a light-hearted and vain-glorious way. I believe it was said that we were going to send 100,000 men there to bring in 1,000,000 men. The 1,000,000 men have been brought in, but unfortunately they are against us. Anybody who knows anything about what is going on in the Near East must see that a new situation has arisen which does give His Majesty's Government an opportunity to consider whether it will not enable them, with proper dignity and a wise regard to all the circumstances, to get out of what I believe the whole country considers—though His Majesty's Government may not—the unfortunate adventure of the Dardanelles. Of course, we cannot be given a decision now; but we all want to know whether the Government are considering anything of that sort.