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That this House declines to entertain any resolution which may embarrass her Majesty's Government in the maintenance of peace and the protection of British interests, without indicating any alternative line of policy.
Mr. Chamberlain, speaking in support of Mr. Gladstone, laid stress on the fact that the Government had reverted from their humane policy of December last to the so-called traditional policy of England, and called upon the Ministry to state explicitly the contingencies which might call for their active intervention.
Mr. Cross thought that, after the agitation of the last week, the country would be surprised to learn that Mr. Gladstone had totally changed his front. Although he sympathised with the autumnal agitation, he denied that the meetings of last week furnished any guide to the opinions of the country. Had anybody put it distinctly to one of these meetings, Will you go to war? That was a question which had been shirked to-night, and that was the reason why the third and fourth Resolutions had been abandoned. Replying in detail to Mr. Gladstone's criticisms on the Ministerial policy, he insisted that the two landmarks of that policy had been not to sanction the invasion of Turkey by foreign armies, and not to acquiesce in misgovernment or oppression in Turkey. He vindicated Lord Derby's despatch, and maintained that it was Russia which had scattered the European concert to the winds. Now that war had broken out, absolute neutrality was the rule of the Government, and neither side would have either moral or material support from us. The Government would do its best to localise and minimise the war, but he indicated certain points—such as the Suez Canal, Egypt, and Constantinople—where the interest not only of England, but of Europe, would be threatened. We do not, he said, want additional territory-we want nothing. We wish this war had not broken out. Batoum and other places have been spoken of; but there is the Suez Canal, in which not only England, but the world, is seriously concerned. Why the Suez Canal should be attacked by Russia in any shape I cannot imagine. Whether attacked by Russia or by Turkey, that is a question of not only English, but European interest. It is the road from the West to the East of the world. Take another place in which not simply England but the world is interested. I mean Egypt. Well, what am I to say about the Treaties as to the Straits of the Dardanelles and the possession of Constantinople ? Is it necessary for carrying on the war between Russia and Turkey and for the protection of the Christians in Turkey that Constantinople should be either attacked, approached, or occupied ? I say "No." These are questions which no country in Europe could regard with indifference; and when I mention them I hope they are so remote that they will not practically arise. But they are questions which must be considered by any British Government, and which any Ministry, even if the right hon. gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) himself were at its head, would not dare to neglect, or, if it did, the country would very soon send it an answer which it could
not mistake. If the Emperor of Russia kept bis plighted word, British interest would not be threatened at any point. As to the Resolutions, Mr. Cross asserted that they either meant war or else the more undignified course of barking without biting. The policy of the Government was plain; conscious of their strength, they would watch the course of events, and, if an opportunity offered for interposing their good offices, they would not allow it to pass. They are conscious, he concluded, of their own earnest desire for peace; they are conscious, if need be, of their strength. They have, I hope, the wisdom not to use their strength improperly, and wherever the opportunity may offer to stop this war, to heal these wretched divisions, to improve the condition of these Christian populations in a way which will really improve them and that way, in my opinion, is not by war—to localise, to minimise, or to wipe away the effects of this war, there the Government will give their services.
It was observed at the time that Mr. Cross's speech bore something of the character of a state-paper, and the Parliamentary advantage derived from it by the Ministers was certain and immediate. Leading members on both sides, and less conspicuous speakers, continued the debate during three nights; but the moderate politicians on both sides of the House were satisfied with the official explanation. It was clear that the Resolutions, if they meant anything, must mean an offensive alliance with Russia; and the result of the compromise between Mr. Gladstone and the Liberal leaders was to
minimise" them to another value. It was in vain for Mr. Childers to assure the Government that the Resolutions would protect them from unwise friends, and save the country from being drawn into war, and for Mr. Lowe to reiterate the denunciations of the Government policy during the autumn and the subsequent negotiations, and throw all the blame on the Ministry for the failure of European diplomacy to settle the Eastern Question ; for the House listened with evidently greater sympathy to Mr. Roebuck when he declared that the Government had on the whole conducted the business with prudence and boldness, said that there would be no end to crusades if England should once go to war upon humanitarian grounds, and directly charged Mr. Gladstone with the “ ambiguity” which he had charged upon the Cabinet-and to Sir Robert Peel when he declared that their policy had placed the country "upon a higher pedestal in the eyes of the world than she had occupied for many years."
Among all the speakers on the Liberal side, only Mr. Courtney was found boldly and unequivocally to recommend armed intervention against Turkey; as we could do nothing, he said, to avert the imminent disintegration of the Ottoman Empire ; and to maintain that coercion in alliance with Russia was our duty, which would be approved by the great mass of the people, though contested in Parliament. Others, and among them Lord Hartington, avowed a belief that concerted coercion would have been advisable at an earlier date, and Mr. Walter called the disinclination of the Government to employ that power of coercion the cardinal mistake in its past policy, adding that public opinion would have enforced it if only the Bulgarian inassacres had preceded the Berlin Memorandum; but all were agreed upon absolute neutrality as the only policy now possible. Mr. Forster expressed a wish that the policy of concerted coercion had received as much support at an earlier period of the Session as was now said in favour of it, but declared that to pass Mr. Gladstone's original Resolutions now would be to encourage Russia and to commit a breach of neutrality, and Mr. Goschen commented on the satisfactory nature of the debate, especially in clearing away apprehensions of war which undoubtedly existed, and producing the Home Secretary's precise definition of British interests, in which there would be a general disposition to agree; but the Turk, he said, had finally ceased to be a British interest, while, at the same time, he protested against any attempt to fix on the Liberal party the epithet of pro-Russian.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer and Mr. Bourke, speaking for the Government, both insisted that all idea of united coercion “ was out of the question, because all the Powers were against coercion except Russia only,” and proclaimed the policy of “watching with vigilance for the turn of events," which, indeed, coupled with Mr. Cross's definition of British interests, was the whole outcome of the debate. Lord Derby's last despatch was defended by Mr. Bourke, on the ground that it was absolutely necessary to repudiate all responsibility for the declaration of war.
The Marquis of Hartington, speaking on the last night of the debate, described the amendment as inaccurate and inadequate, because while the passing of the Resolutions would not embarrass the Government, the policy laid down did not include the good government of the Turkish Provinces. The two Resolutions, he maintained, pointed to the true policy which ought to guide the action of the Government. Replying to an inquiry of Lord Sandon, why was not a vote of censure moved, he pointed out that it would have strengthened that section of the Ministerialists from which the Opposition differed most, and would have weakened those with whom they had most sympathy. Undoubtedly the Resolutions as originally proposed would have constituted a vote of want of confidence, but that the Government met by taking shelter under the previous Question. If it had been thought desirable to move a vote of censure, the papers relating to the Protocol disclosed ample grounds for it. Justifying the course taken by Mr. Gladstone, he said that though he entirely agreed with the objects aimed at in the four Resolutions, he could not concur in all the means, nor in the expediency of pressing them at this time. These objects he took to be to secure the country from the shame and guilt of appearing as the defender of Turkey, to make the country an active agent in giving freedom to the Turkish Provinces and peace to Europe, and to guard British interests in
the only way in which they could be permanently safe, by making them identical with peace and freedom. The first object would be attained by passing the first two Resolutions. Remarking on the part which “ British interests” had played in the debate, he said he was as ready as anyone to fight for them, but he denied that they were identical with the “ maintenance of the Ottoman Empire," and what, he asked, had British interests to do with the conduct of Russia, which had been so freely denounced during the debates ? Discussing the third and fourth Resolutions, he pointed out that a free Greece and a free Servia had already been established by us in concert with Russia. He admitted that these Resolutions pointed to the employment of force, and though there was a time before the Moscow Declaration, when a small display of force without recourse to violent measures would have sufficed to bring Turkey to reason, things had changed now, and he saw no way in which a concert of the European Powers for this purpose could be obtained. No doubt the country would sustain the Government in a policy of strict neutrality, but sooner or later we should be called on to interfere either as mediators or to deal with the events of the war; and the policy laid down in the Resolutions would be the guide to our conduct. He did not quarrel with the Home Secretary's definition of “British interests he was willing to say that no territorial aggrandisement should be permitted to Russia, and that the navigation of the Suez Canal should be secured, but no more must these objects be secured, as of old, solely by the maintenance of the Ottoman Empire.
Mr. Gladstone, in his reply, after touching on points raised by Lord Elcho, Sir H. Wolff, and others, came to the speech of Mr. Cross, of which he expressed approval so far as it went, but pointed out that it was in direct contradiction with Lord Derby's Despatch. This dualism pervaded all the later policy of the Government, and it was to its want of consecutiveness and consistency that he attributed the failure of the Government to attain the objects which it had laid before it, the maintenance of the status quo, the integrity and independence of the Ottoman Empire, the Treaties of 1856, and the improvement in the condition of the Christians. With regard to the Resolutions, he did not agree with Lord Hartington that the time had passed for an authoritative interference of combined Europe. That, he believed, was the only weapon by which a satisfactory settlement could be arrived at. The Resolutions did not contemplate a sole alliance with Russia, nor did he believe that combined action of the other Powers was even yet impossible. Replying to the question so often put in the debate- does coercion mean war?-he emphatically replied “No." Adequately supported, coercion need not be followed by war, and as instances of the successful employment of foreign armies in the internal affairs of other nations, he mentioned Holland, Spain, and Portugal. Insisting once more on his interpretation of the Treaty of Kainardji, and on the obligations imposed on us by our destruc
tion of the Protectorate which Russia exercised under it, Mr. Gladstone argued that the shortest way to put an end to the war and stop bloodshed would be by drawing a Naval cordon round Turkey, and neutralising the Turkish Fleet. He concluded an eloquent peroration by expressing his regret that the voice of the nation had not prevailed, and that England had not been permitted to take her place in this great work of civilisation.
When the House divided on the first Resolution, 223 voted for and 354 against it; the division being almost entirely a party one. Mr. Newdegate was the only Conservative who voted with Mr. Gladstone, and six Liberals voted with the Government, including Mr. Roebuck. Of the Home Rulers, nineteen voted in the majority, eleven voted with Mr. Gladstone, and about twenty-three took no part in the division. The number of Conservatives absent from the division was about sixteen, and the number of Liberals absent about nineteen, all the members of Mr. Gladstone's Administration in the House of Commons voting in the minority.
Many and various were the comments made upon the debate and division at the time, the “ Times” chiefly commenting upon the absence of all attempts at any serious defence of Turkish misgovernment, and at the confession which the discussion implied, that England felt the present condition of things to be greatly her own fauit. “She has been so full of her own interests cropping up everywhere, and so proud to have the special protection of a grand historic empire, that she has grossly neglected her duty to educate her difficult pupil and prepare it for its inevitable coming of age. That work is now taken out of her bands, and she has to content herself with such small but necessary business as seeing that she is not herself incidentally hurt or encroached upon.
But no statesman, party, or section in Parliament is in a condition to boast of being exempt from the common error.”
In another article in the same journal, it was remarked that what really decided the two great parties in the House was the difference in the point of view from which they regard “English interests," the one thinking them menaced by any alterations in the balance of European power, the other believing that beneficent changes would on the whole be found most compatible with the safety of England. But the “ Daily Telegraph” truly showed that the division list reached the highest point which antagonism to the Ministerial policy could be induced to touch, Mr. Gladstone's first resolution having been worded so as most to unite the Liberal ranks, and divide the Conservative. In redemption of their pledge to Mr. Gladstone, the regular Opposition voted against Sir H. Wolff's amendment; but there the contest ended. In the remainder of the Session, all noteworthy discussion was suspended upon issues which had now been taken into sterner keeping, and which had to be decided, in spite of another fruitless addition to the story of Conferences and Protocols, on the battle-fields of the Danube and of Asia Minor. The Government distinctly pledged