§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
My Lords, I desire to ask His -Majesty's. Government whether they are in a position to explain the circumstances in which His Majesty's Minister has been withdrawn from Athens, and in doing so I will add only a very few sentences. The only statement of policy that we have had with regard to the withdrawal of our Minister from Athens is a statement which fell from the lips of the Prime Minister the other day. In the House of Commons, in reply to a Question addressed to him, the Prime Minister said that it was contrary to the practice of civilised countries to execute Ministers who had failed in their policy. I take it, therefore, from His Majesty's Government, that the attitude of this country towards Greece was more that of a gesture of horror on the part of a civilised country at the events which had taken place, and that it was not a protest in regard to any specific British interest. If this should be the case it would appear that we acted alone, and that in acting alone our position was somewhat weakened.
What are the facts of the case? They are these. Our own Minister has been removed from Athens; so far as we can judge from the public Press, the Minister for Italy is at Athens but has been instructed by his Government to break off diplomatic relations with the Government of Greece; while the representatives of the United States and France are at Athens, and only the other day they visited the Foreign Minister of Greece to make their protest to him against the events which lave lately taken place. If these facts be true, it would seem that the policy of His Majesty's Government was in one direction, that of 330 the representatives of France and of the United States was in an almost diametrically opposite direction, and that of the Italian Government was of an intermediate character. If that is so, and as far as we can judge that is the situation, no doubt His Majesty's Government have very excellent reasons for the action they have taken, and I am sure we may look forward to hearing those reasons from the lips of the noble Marquess.
We should bear in mind that grave criticisms wore made against the representatives of the late Government for pursuing a precisely similar line of action, and that when time Turks advanced on Gallipoli, and threatened to march into Europe, and His Majesty's Government announced their intention of resisting them, at once criticisms were made that it was vital for His Majesty's Government to got the co-operation of both France and Italy. Yet on the first occasion of a change of Government we perceive that His Majesty's Ministers adopt an attitude which suggests that this spirit of independence still survives. And I ask the noble Marquess this Question: If this spirit of independence still survives, is it due to the fact that we tried to get co-operation from the Government of France and the Government of Italy, and failed; or is it that we felt our-selves entitled to act alone? Independence of action brings with it its consequences, and the consequence is that at this present moment the Diplomatic Corps at Athens is complete except for the presence of the representative of Great Britain. Sooner or later he will have to return. And I ask the noble Marquess, on what terms will he return? What are the terms which His Majesty's Government will insist on the Greek Government carrying out before its representative is permitted to return to Athens and resume diplomatic relations?
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY)
My Lords, the noble Duke has amplified his Question by not very many, but a few, observations. Let me say in the first place, in reply to those supplementary observations, that there was no difference so far as I am aware in the opinions entertained by the Western European Powers as to the disapprobation of the Greek Revolutionary Government in the circumstances Which are now the, subject or inquiry. There was a general opinion, I think, throughout 331 the whole of the West of Europe as to the feeling that we ought to entertain on such a subject, though it is perfectly true that the method by which that feeling was displayed differed in degree.
I do not see any analogy between the action of the British Government in Athens and the action, a few months ago, of the British Government in respect of the Turks at the Dardanelles. That latter matter was a very important warlike operation which might have led to very serious consequences, and certainly criticisms were made against His Majesty's late Government that they had not secured the co-operation of France before they entered upon that policy. But I do not think any parallel could be drawn between that very grave matter and this matter, which, however we may reprobate it, is of very minor importance.
In answer to the Question on the Paper, I have to say that the Ministers were tried and condemned by an extraordinary Court-Martial which was set up by a Decree of the Revolutionary Committee dated October 25. Repeated efforts were made by Mr. Lindley, His Majesty's Minister in Athens, to procure a trial before a Civil Court, and subsequently to prevent the carrying out of the death penalty. These efforts were made upon the general ground that it is contrary to the practice of civilised Governments to put to death outgoing Ministers by revolutionary action and upon the special ground that for historical reasons Great Britain stands in a special position of influence in Greece. We felt it, therefore, to be our duty, if our remonstrance was ignored, to show in some manner that could not be misunderstood how strong would be the disapproval of His Majesty's Government, and to withdraw His Majesty's Minister. In the event, our remonstrance was ignored, and the Minister was withdrawn accordingly. I do not doubt that in consequence the strong opinion of His Majesty's Government has been duly realised in Athens.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
My Lords, I do not rise exactly to criticise the course of conduct which in difficult circumstances the Government pursued, but the result has certainly been extremely unfortunate. Still less do I intend to criticise in any way the action taken by the Greek Revolutionary Committee, not because my sentiments on the matter are 332 in the least likely to be divergent from those of the noble Marquess and his Government,—because, after all, it is not a matter which primarily is advantageous when decisions have been taken and action has been followed, and when we have no principal responsibility in the matter, to reflect at all upon subjects which are not very obviously our concern—but the withdrawal of a Minister is always, of course, a very inconvenient process, and it would, I think, have been very much better if we had been guided in this matter by the advice which the Government so frequently gave to us when they were in opposition and we were in power, that they should secure common action among all the Allies.
There were severallacuncœ in the interesting statement made by the noble Marquess. He did not for instance inform us whether our Minister at Athens associated himself with the representatives of the United States of America, France and Italy at the time when he made the remonstrances which preceded the execution. It is, I suppose, evident that remonstrances and warnings proceeding from the representatives of all those Powers would be far more likely to be effective than remonstrances proceeding from the representative of this country alone. And if that were not done, it was on the whole, I think your Lordships will agree, a regrettable omission.
But what certainly is clear is this, that in withdrawing the Minister we, and we alone, have apparently felt ourselves called upon to take this step. Here I must confess I feel grave doubt as to the wisdom of the course that has been pursued. In the first place, we do not, I suppose, wish to make seriously the claim that we are a more moral nation than the French, and the Italians, and the Americans, or that we are a more sensitive nation. We should hardly be bold enough, I think, to put forward the claim that we possess a more sensitive moral character, so that we are more deeply affronted by events which we deplore than the representatives of other countries. And it would appear, therefore, to be plain that we have felt it necessary to mark our feeling in this matter in a manner which has not recommended itself to any one of our Allies.
The Government will, I venture to predict, discover that it is a very easy thing I to say: "Let us maintain complete 333 accord and harmony with our Allies; let us always act with our Allies." The noble Marquess spoke a moment ago of the failure of the late Government on more than one occasion to march side by side with France iii all these post-war difficulties. I think, perhaps, that the Government will discover, and will discover at an early date, that to utter these pious admonitions of harmony, and to adhere to them in practice in all the ramifications of foreign policy at this moment, are very different things. You can march in harmony very easily with all your Allies if on every point of sincere and conscientious difference of opinion yon surrender your own point of view. There is no difficulty in that. But the difficulties of the Govermnent will arise, when, being unwilling, as they will be unwilling, to surrender their own point of view, they discover that there are divergences of opinion which are Sometimes fundamental.
The present case is hardly so grave as others that I have in my mind. But the noble Marquess did not answer a point, and one of some importance, that the noble Duke put. The question is this. We have taken away the Minister. I need not point out to your Lordships how intimate and how Various are the commercial interests that we have in Athens, and in Greece generally—certainly of the very-highest importance as far as a small country is concerned. It is the ditty of the Minister to give assistance of that kind to English national and citizens who find themselves in Greece for commercial and other purposes. Is it a wise thing to place this community, and at this moment of all others when trade in every part of Europe is showing some slight flicker of revival and when every degree of fostering protection that can be given should be given—is it a wise thing to put our citizens in Athens at an obvious and even admitted disadvantage as compared with the citizens of the United States of America, who are not less anxious than we are to add to their trade, and as compared with the citizens of France and the citizens of Italy.
If we are told, as we may be told, that although the Minister has left some representative is still in Athens able to give attention to these matters, two criticisms suggest themselves upon that point. First, that it is quite obvious that the Minister would be the man at once more responsible 334 and more capable for the purposes of safeguarding English interests than one who, up to quite recently was a subordinate acting under the direction of the Minister and carrying out his policy. The second observation which falls to be made upon that point is that the dramatic force of the gesture—the removal of the British Minister—is very greatly diminished if at the same time we say to anybody who points out the grave consequences of that removal: "Oh yes, but we have left all the rest, there; it is only the Minister who has gone." I do not see where the moral gesture conies in if you say: "We remove A, but B, C and D are still there."Unoaculso, non deficit alter.
One other difficulty presents itself in this matter. How long is this gesture of moral indignation to be maintained? Is it for a week; is it for a month; is it for six months? It is always very difficult to take a decision of this kind. It is like a man who receives some affront from another man and decides to cut him. It is very easy to cut a man once; but if you happen to he thrown into association with him in business so that you have to meet him every day it is extremely inconvenient, indeed impossible, to go on cutting him. Then the awkward question presents itself: At what moment am I to cease cutting him, and once more grant him the compliment of recognition?
When you remove a Minister, you find yourself in the same difficulty as we did when, in our horror at the murder of Queen Draga and others in Serbia, we withdrew our Minister from Serbia. At that time we acted in concert, if I am not mistaken, with all the representatives of the civilized Powers. Therefore, without any particular loss of dignity we were able to take that step and to restore diplomatic relations once more. But our Minister was withdrawn with every circumstance of publicity from Athens when it was thought necessary to adopt the same course. But we shall have to make up our minds very soon, I imagine, either to send back that Minister or another, and then the question will, undoubtedly, present itself: Was it worth while for the sake of maintaining this isolated attitude of extreme indignation for the space of three, or four, or five weeks to have made ourselves responsible for the dislocation? I ask time noble Marquess—
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
I do not know; that may be. I am not disposed to be dogmatic upon the matter; it seems to me to be very difficult indeed to be sure, or to speak dogmatically, upon such a point. But that does not affect the point I was discussing at the moment, and that was whether the noble Marquess could give us any indication at all as to bow long this interruption of our representation at Athens is to last.
I would only add that it seems to me t hat there may be an explanation, though not an altogether adequate one, of the course adopted by the Government. It occurred to me when I was trying to discover some adequate explanation of it, that in the hope of saving the lives of these men before the decision was irrevocably taken that their lives would not be spared, it may have occurred to His Majesty's Government that the threat of removing our Minister might have been, as it might have been, a decision which made for mercy; that they made the threat in that expectation which, unfortunately, the event falsified and then found themselves compelled to carry out the threat which they had previously made in those circumstances. However that may be, if the noble Marquess is in a position—he may easily not be, and of that I make no complaint—to tell your Lordships how long this interruption is going to last, I shall be very grateful to him.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, as one who, in former years, passed some time in the diplomatic service, I confess that I feel somewhat surprised at the action taken by the two noble Lords opposite. As I understand it, they have both found fault with His Majesty's Government for not having consulted with their Allies upon this particular point. I presume, to put it roughly, that the attitude of the Government is this—that upon all questions of policy they do consult their Allies as much as they can, including not only France and Italy but other Allies. But this is not a question of policy at all. This, as I understand it, is a question of humanity anal Justice, and I altogether dissent from the views expressed by the noble Earl and by the noble Duke that, on questions of this kind, we are to consult with every one of 336 our Allies as to whether their particular point of view agrees with ours.
I do not know whether the noble and learned Earl would condescend to accept me as a reputable witness, but I have some acquaintance with these Balkan countries and I am perfectly certain that the noble Marquess is correct in saying that our action has produced an excellent effect. This is not the first occasion of the sort. We suspended diplomatic relations for a long period with Mexico—I forget how long it lasted—in consequence of the action of the Mexican Government. Later on, as the noble and learned Earl reminded us, we suspended diplomatic relations with Serbia. I forget whether we withdrew only our Minister or the whole Mission, but we suspended diplomatic relations with that nation. If I am not mistaken, we did that without consulting our Allies at all. I do not wish to be egotistical—
§ LORD NEWTON
As a matter of fact, in a case of that kind you do not consult your Allies at all. You consult your colleagues and ask them what they are going to do. In the particular case of Serbia my recollection is that nobody was consulted, but that we withdrew our Minister upon our own initiative. Those are cases which have occurred and I can conceive of other cases where it might very well occur.
A short time ago I was in Sofia, and there I found in gaol, as it might be in Marlborough Street Police Station, former Prime Ministers corresponding, say, to Lord Rosebery, Lord Landsowne, Mr. Asquith and even the noble and learned Earl opposite, all in gaol and for no particular cause alleged against them. I visited these unfortunate statesmen and they assured me that no definite charge had been brought against them at all. Anyhow, these Ministers were arrested on different grounds. It was said that some of them were too warlike, and others had not made peace quickly enough. Anyhow, they were all locked up, and a short time 337 ago a Referendum was taken on the subject of their trial. And I have very little doubt, from such knowledge as I have of those countries, that before long they will be condemned to death. If they are condemned to death, I sincerely hope that His Majesty's Government will repeat the action they have taken in the case of these Greek people, and that in the case of these men who, as in the case of the Greeks, are politicians and statesmen with whom we have had official relations, they will do their best, if necessary, to save their lives.
This question of whether you are to suspend diplomatic relations or not seems to me to be one which depends entirely upon circumstances. Anybody might reasonably contend that if we suspend our diplomatic relations with Greece it is rather absurd that we should not have suspended diplomatic relations with the Turks when they massacred occasionally thousands and thousands of Armenians and other Christians. So far as I recollect, there never was any question of suspending relations at all. I will not profess to analyse the motives, but I will conclude by venturing to express the opinion that each case must be judged upon its merits and that you cannot lay down any fixed rule upon the subject. So far as I am concerned, I believe the action which has been taken by His Majesty's Government will be emphatically approved by everyone who has any knowledge of the circumstances.