Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £1,737,600, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1922, for Salaries and Expenses in connection with Middle Eastern Services under His Majesty's Secretary of State for the Colonies, including certain Grants-in-Aid.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
On a point of Order. May I ask you, Mr. Hope, in regard to the scope of the discussion on this Vote, as to whether you will allow a fairly wide area of debate in view of the fact that the original Supplementary Estimate amounted to two million odd pounds. The additional sum required—this is really the point—amounts to no less than £2,861,600.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I should hesitate to rule on the ground of the amount of the Estimate, but perhaps I may be able to give satisfaction to the right hon. Gentleman on another ground. There are two items for new Services, and on one of these the policy which has led up to the item may be discussed.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Mr. Churchill)
It is a far cry from Ireland to Iraq, but although this is a different drama I must make my apologies to the Committee that the management has not been able, or found it possible, to present a different cast, and I am called upon again, with so short an interval, to intrude upon its indulgence. I have, on the whole, a fairly satisfactory tale to tell. First of all let me deal with the Supplementary Estimate. On page 34 there is a note which explains exactly the relation which this Estimate bears to the expenditure in Iraq during the current year. There has been no failure to make good the under- 1536 taking which I gave to the House in June last. On the contrary, the rate of the evacuation of the troops has been accelerated and consequently the expenditure has been diminished. There would, therefore, be no need for a Supplementary Estimate, and I should have been able to return a substantial sum to the Exchequer, in spite of the fact that the troops have cost more than anticipated, but for the fact that two large items deal with the pre-Colonial Office period, legacies from the Entente régime, and which have come into account for the first time. Both of these are charges which arise on the civil administration, and are due to the payments to India, the first in regard to remittances to Indian soldiers, in connection with which a considerable deficit is due to India, and the second, the deficit on the Civil Budget in Mesopotamia in the year before the current financial year—
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Yes, so we had, and for the moment I had forgotten, and, after all, it is a good thing to change names sometimes. It is Iraq alias Mesopotamia. To continue. Both these charges refer to the earlier period, and it is all the more necessary, therefore, that I should not leave the Committee under the impression that we have not succeeded fully in making good the forecasts and anticipations which I presented to the House about eight months ago. It is impossible, I think, to understand the position in Iraq and in Palestine without taking more or less a general review of the financial and political situation; also indulging to some extent in retrospect. The Committee could not at all do justice to the subject unless they see exactly what is the position, so as to compare it in their own minds with the position which existed this time last year or the year before that. Let us, then, just see what are the milestones on the road we have travelled.
When the War came to an end, there was an army in Iraq and Palestine, taking the two together, which might be measured by 175 battalions—I take the figure of battalions because it is a convenient index, for there are cavalry, 1537 artillery, and the ancillary services. In the Estimates for 1919–20 we were demobilising these armies and bringing them home, and on 1st April, 1919, the force had fallen to 99 battalions, and the cost for that year was estimated at about £75,000,000. In 1920–21 the number was reduced to about 70 battalions, costing about £40,000,000. The current year opened with a military force of 48 battalions, which the Government had already decided to reduce to about 37 battalions, while exploring the possibilities of making further reductions during the year. When the War Office Estimates for the current year, 1921–22, were finally prepared, it was on a basis of an army of 37 battalions, costing about £32,500,000. It was at this stage that the Cabinet decided that the triple control of the War Office, Foreign Office, and India Office should cease, and that a separate Vote for the Middle Eastern Services should be set up, that one Minister should be made responsible and that that Minister should be the Secretary of State for the Colonies. As the Committee knows, I was invited to move to that Department. As I have carefully explained on other occasions, I take no responsibility, other than the general responsibility for the circumstances which led us to Iraq and Palestine, or to stay there once we had entered those countries. During the period when very important decisions on this subject were taken, I was not a member of the War Cabinet, which alone had constitutional responsibility; I was only serving under it in what I had described as a quasi-technical capacity.
I think the Committee will not accuse mo of being backward in assuming responsibility—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"]—or taking my share in it. I am quite willing to do so, and to explain the whole course of events, and the whole policy, but I decline altogether to be placed in a position of splendid isolation or of solitary eminence in regard to either Iraq or Palestine. The pledges which were given were pledges given by the Government before all the world, and the decisions which have been taken were decisions with which I was only connected in a general, and in some cases in an indirect, manner. When, therefore, in January of last year I assumed direct responsibility for the administration of the Middle East I was accorded by the 1538 Cabinet the full power necessary to discharge those responsibilities, and I felt perfectly free to take a new view of the way in which we could best carry out the responsibilities we had assumed in those countries. I felt at the outset that if the expense of Palestine and Iraq had remained at £30,000,000 a year, it would have been out of the question to remain in those territories at all. I put this view to the authorities summoned to Cairo, and I demanded from them a policy which should secure first of all an immediate diminution in the expenses of the current year.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
The right hon. Gentleman has given us the figures for 1919–20 and 1920–21. Can he give us the figures for the current year? He mentioned a figure of £32,500,000 in the Estimates, but what is the ascertainable figure now?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
With regard to the expenditure up to last June the War Office had such great faith in my powers of economy that they anticipated £3,000,000 or £4,000,000 of economies that would arise, and consequently the Estimates were £27,000,000 instead of £32,000,000, and to that must be added the Supplementary Estimate. I said that first of all there must be an immediate diminution in the expenses of the current year, and that the expenses for 1922–23 should be reduced to a certain figure which I specified, and which I afterwards announced to the House. Economies were effected to the amount of £5,000,000 during the current year. I consider that the new policy must be credited with the advantage of having secured a diminution of the Estimate of £35,000,000, to a realised figure of £30,000,000. If the plan could not have been carried out within these reduced limits, I should have been perfectly ready to recommend the evacuation of either or both of those countries.
We sought ourselves advice on our policy and in the end complete agreement was reached between all the authorities representing the political, military and aerial elements, and this policy was approved by the Cabinet and announced by me in the House in a speech of inordinate length last year. That policy brought a saving of £5,500,000 to the Estimates of 1921–22, with every prospect of a further reduc- 1539 tion of nearly £18,000,000 in the Estimates for 1922–23. I said that I hoped that the expenses for Palestine and Iraq might be in the neighbourhood of £10,000,000 in the year 1922–23, but I was careful to guard myself by stating that I offered no guarantee that the policy we were adopting would, succeed. I pointed out the extraordinary embarrassment which the protracted quarrel between Greece and Turkey was causing throughout the Near East, and the need of early peace which gave proof of a desire that Great Britain should act in harmonious relationship with the Moslem world as a whole. I pointed out that if this peace was not forthcoming the hopes of success of our policy in Iraq would be very greatly diminished. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) will remember that I proceeded with a long series of "ifs."
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I believe my right hon. Friend accepted all my "ifs" and dotted all the i's in my "ifs." Here are some of them. "If the arrangements we are now making be successful, if the policy which rendered these arrangements possible is carried out, and if it is not interrupted by untoward events, I hope that the Estimates for 1922 and 1923 for the normal current expenditure both in Palestine and Iraq together, apart from terminal charges and special charges for the repatriation of troops, will not exceed £9,000,000 or £10,000,000. That has only a pre-War value of some £4,000,000 or £5,000,000." The figures which I have now given for this year are in the neighbourhood of £10,000,000, but they do include a large sum for terminal charges, and a sum for the repatriation of troops. Not only am I able to keep up my forecast, but I have been able substantially to improve upon it in the absence of the factor I mentioned about Greece and Turkey being successful.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
It is impossible to make this statement without the House having in mind the figures which have been given through the publication of the Geddes Report.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
It would be a great mistake for the Committee to try to form a judgment on this question without realising all the relative and dominant facts of the situation. There is no doubt whatever that this very guarded position which I took up was very clearly understood by the House, because my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, a fortnight later, when he had had an opportunity of considering the matter with deliberation and in the cold light of reflection, drew attention to the hypothetical form in which this policy was presented, and he said:Have I exaggerated or over-stated the case? … If not, what becomes of his reduction?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th July, 1921; col. 1528, Vol. 144.]If the Committee feel that, these anticipations have been fulfilled to a very considerable extent, they will, I trust, agree that a real measure of credit should be extended to those skilful and sagacious officers on the spot on whom the burden and difficulty of carrying out this policy has rested, as well as upon the group of highly skilled and experienced advisers here who have been gathered together to form the Middle East Department, and from whose united action our policy in Iraq has been entirely derived. At any rate, I think it may be said that I have excited no undue hopes or given any excessive assurances, neither am I going to do so to-day. I am only going to show how far the policy I announced has been carried out. I will indicate under the same reserve what further forecast it is, if not prudent, at any rate possible, to make at the present time.
Of course this reduction in expense mainly takes the form of a great diminution in the garrison. All thought of reducing expenditure in those countries was absolutely futile unless accompanied by an immense repatriation of the troops, and a breaking-up of those costly establishments which linger on so obstinately long after the War has finished. At the beginning of this year—I am speaking of Iraq only—we had 48 battalions, and we decided to cut them down at once to 23 battalions, and I hoped to reach the figure of 12 battalions by the end of this financial year. We have already reached the figure of nine battalions, and we are 1541 contemplating dropping to six and then oven to four battalions. [An HON. MEMBER: "Are these British troops?"] They are British and Indian troops and there would be a certain proportion of Europeans, certainly not more than half and probably less. How have these great reductions been obtained? By adopting a policy of air power and local forces. First of all, with regard to local forces, we have raised considerable forces of local levies, which are now occupying practically all the outlying districts except Mosul which we are still holding with an Imperial force. In addition to that, there is the Iraq Army under Ja'afar Pasha, whose exploits I announced to the House a year ago. This force is not developing so fast as we could have wished and it has not reached the efficiency one expected up to the present.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
He is Secretary of State for War. As these local forces come into being, our troops have been rapidly withdrawn, and this enables us to concentrate our troops at rail heads in a position of comfort and security, instead of having small portions of troops scattered about all over the country. Local troops are employed on the frontiers with the exception of Mosul. The great factor in these reductions has been the use of air power. With regard to the Air Force, we had six squadrons last year, and we have raised that number now to eight squadrons.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
It is in Iraq. We have there a force of British and Indian troops and artillery and a squadron of the Royal Air Force, with a large curtain of levies, and a local Army is gradually coming into being there. In view of the unsettled condition of our relations with Turkey, we are keeping a certain force there in the hope that when better relations are established, they will permit of the withdrawal of our troops.
Leaving the troops, let me come to the air power. We have eight squadrons all concentrated at Baghdad in a loop of the river which renders them certainly secure. They constitute the principal agency by which the local levies all over the country are supported, by which the 1542 authority of the Arab Government is rendered effective, and by which the frontiers are to a very large extent defended. It is a very powerful concentration. There is nothing like it elsewhere in the British Empire at the present moment. The eight squadrons represent one-third of the whole strength of the Royal Air Force. We propose during the coming year to place the military control and security of Iraq under the charge of the officer commanding the Royal Air Force. That will be much the largest force in the country, and it is only right in that case that command should follow the bulk of the forces there. There will be ancillary units, armoured-car companies, steamboats on the river, and armoured trains, which will all be comprised within the general control of the Air Force, and will look after the mechanical depots which eight squadrons require. By the time the Air Force take over control there will only be four battalions of troops, and they will be there for the purpose of keeping order in Bagdad and securing the aerodromes from marauders, and not for the purpose of wandering about the country on expeditions.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I think it is better to have a certain force of men to see to the security of the central organism on which this novel scheme of holding a great country depends. I should like to say how enormously the whole of this reduction of troops has been facilitated by the Air Ministry and by Air-Marshal Sir Hugh Trenchard, whose exploits in the War are so well-known. He, again and again, has had to face the terrible difficulty of actually doing things on the spot in contact with hostile influenes. He has thrown himself into this task with extraordinary energy and power, and I am most deeply indebted to him and the Air Ministry for the assistance they have rendered us. It would have been absolutely impossible to secure anything like the saving we have made if it had not been for their whole-hearted co-operation in a scheme which, after all, is of consequence to the Air Force and to the whole position in the future of our aerial Army. Before I leave the Air Force, I may say that everything goes 1543 to show that that force will play a great part in keeping order in these territories —not by violent measures. The mere demonstration of the presence of aeroplanes has again and again been effective in preventing disorder. It has put the civilian officers in close contact with the various tribes, it provides the means of supporting the local levies if outbreaks occur, while it does not involve the movement of bodies of troops and does not place small parties in a position to be cut off and ambuscaded; neither does it involve long, vulnerable lines of communication. It is a very powerful factor which at present is only in an experimental stage, but which has been gradually growing in its claim on the confidence of the authorities on the spot during the whole of the present year. I should like to say that the air mail which I indicated was to be started last year is now running with fair regularity from Bagdad to Cairo. Indeed, one individual has actually travelled from Bagdad to London in from six to seven days. The Government's communications with Iraq have been shortened by nearly two-thirds—by a month out of six weeks—and there is no doubt that the civil communications will go that way by this aerial route as soon as it develops a little further.
I have spoken of the levies and of the Air Force. Let me say that these would be quite useless but for policy. If we are to-day in the occupation of the whole of Iraq and of Mosul, if a large portion of Turkish area is within our boundary lines, if people move about the country with very great freedom and security at the present time, then that is due to the fact that we are not so much holding the country as allowing the country to hold itself. We have endeavoured very earnestly to set up a form of government which will claim the support and respect of the masses of the inhabitants. The principal element in our policy was the creation of the independent Arab State of Iraq, with a prince of the Sherifian house, and we were led to believe that Emir Feisal was the candidate whom the people of Iraq would select most freely, and who by reason of the qualities he possessed was most likely to make an efficient ruler. In choosing him we made a wise choice: the Emir went to Iraq in 1544 August or September last year and the people were perfectly free to choose. There was another candidate before them.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
That, I believe, is rather an essential element for a successful election. From the moment that Feisal landed he made a great impression on the people. As many hon. Members who have met him know, he is a man of very commanding personality with great gifts of courtesy and address and with a charming manner. As a member of the great Sherifian family he was in a position of common sympathy with the peoples, notwithstanding the lamentable schisms which existed between Sunni and Shiah. The Arab Council of State, on the motion of its President, passed a unanimous resolution declaring the Emir Feisal King of Iraq provided that he maintained a constitutional democratic government limited by law. This declaration was confirmed on a referendum by a majority of 96 per cent, of the voters. I do not believe there has ever been a more genuine attempt to establish representative government in a country which has not hitherto enjoyed any representative institutions. [An HON. MEMBER: "HOW many voters were there?"] I cannot say. There were quite a large number, several hundreds of thousands. The Emir was duly declared King at Bagdad, and the Naqib became President of the Council of State. The Government are deeply indebted to him, because at an advanced age he took up the burden of office and showed a patriotism which His Majesty has recognised recently by bestowing the dignity of G.B.E. upon him. It was hoped that by now the National Assembly would have met, but that has been delayed principally by the difficulty of providing for tribal representation, which the Turkish electoral law excluded. The municipal elections, which under the Iraq electoral laws are an essential preliminary to the election in the National Assembly, are nearly concluded. They have resulted n the return of moderate men known to be in sympathy with the policy of His Majesty's Government. In many cases the mayors appointed by the British authorities have been re-elected, and that is very remarkable, considering we have no troops outside the City of Bagdad.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
No money has been spent in that way. I think the right hon. Gentleman is doing an ill service in this matter. A little humour and a little merriment may be all right to while away the tedium of the afternoon, but I should be sorry—
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I am reproving the right hon. Gentleman for an exhibition of levity which I regret should take place on this Vote, and which ill compares with the incursions he makes into our discussion on financial matters. Remember, if this policy excite derision, it is an essential part, at any rate, of the process by which over twenty millions have been saved. In Bagdad, where the extremist party is strong, the seats are almost equally divided.
I cannot help feeling that we have been well-advised to pursue this path of developing these Arab institutions, and I can soc no rcasAn why we should not make progress in the near future. We have had a peaceful year. The total number of British officers and civilians killed in the whole of Iraq and Kurdistan during the whole of last year is six killed and seven wounded, and three of these were killed and four wounded by air accidents without any hostile action at all, such as might occur at aerodromes in this country. Three or four persons have been killed in this wild country, newly recovered from a state of convulsion, in the whole course of the year. With a force smaller than that with which the hon. Member for the Wrekin Division (Sir C. Townshend) said he would hold Basra, the entire country has been kept tranquil and open, in spite of the Turkish menace. There has been no political execution, no one has been punished for treason of any sort, and there has been but one single deportation, only one—our Home Secretary. Apart from that unfortunate episode, everything has proceeded entirely smoothly. I think that is an excellent record. I should not have hesitated if no one else had said it. Luckily, I have a higher authority. I have the Geddes Report. I am one of those admirers of the Geddes Report who have hitherto 1546 kept my adoration within reasonable bounds, but I have had to criticise some of those recommendations both publicly and in my official work. When I read the third section, Chapter 3, which deals with Middle Eastern Services, I read on page 14:So long as the existing British responsibilities in the Middle East continue, we cannot suggest any further modification of the arrangements which are being carried into effect by the Colonial Secretary.And then I read on a previous page:The Colonial Secretary has given us full explanations of the present position in these countries and the vigorous steps which he has taken to reduce the expenditure consistently with the fulfilment of the obligations undertaken by the Government.When I read that I said to myself, "This is a very able document—at any rate, in parts." I read it all, and it seemed to me that there is more to be said for these business men than I had thought. They are detached from the ordinary conflict of party, unhampered by Parliament, with no interest to serve—I had almost said, no axe to grind. At any rate, weighing up the Geddes Report, I feel it is my title deed, and I ask the Committee to permit me to celebrate it by the mixing of my metaphors, and to say that the blackest sheep in the flock is the only one who has left court without a stain on its character. My right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) draws attention to the sentences of the Reports of the Geddes Committee on the subject, which make it clear that they took no responsibility for the general question of policy—whether we should stay in these countries or not. They say, "If you stay, this is probably the best path along which you should move," but they leave, and rightly leave, to the Cabinet and to Parliament the duty of deciding what measures shall be taken to fulfil the pledges and obligations into which the State has entered.
I am going to ask the Committee to consider this question of policy once again. I address a very practical argument to them. In the War—we were waging war for two or three years on a great scale on the Euphrates and Tigris. We spent £200,000,000 or £250,000,000 as part of our great war expenditure. The money spent in Iraq since the War, on the demobilisation of the troops, and bringing them home, and all those other matters—that certainly amounts to 1547 £125,000,000. We may therefore Bay that the cost of securing our present position in Iraq, including war expenditure, has certainly been not less than £350,000,000, four-fifths of which expenditure was expenditure in the War and arising out of the aftermath of the War. The question to be settled this afternoon when a Vote like this comes up is, Can it all absolutely be thrown away for nothing just at the moment when it may well be that satisfactory results are at hand? I think it probable that an expenditure of £8,000,000 this year in Iraq—I am not speaking of Palestine; I am coming to Palestine later—and about £4,500,000 next year, and a considerably smaller sum the year after, if all goes well, will suffice to carry us forward to the time when we may reasonably expect to secure some return both in trade and the development of the valuable oil possibilities which abound all over that area. This is a matter of profound interest to this country and to the world. I feel if we can create a contented and tranquil native State under a Government that it likes and supports, and if we can, through that Government, secure peace and tranquillity in the country, and the gradual beginning of economic development, at the same time continually reducing our responsibilities and burdens in regard to that country, we may, at the cost of two or three years of diminishing expenditure—£8,000,000, £4,500,000, £3,000,000 and £2,000,000 a year—get into a position where we shall not have thrown away hopelessly and uselessly immense sums which we have spent wisely or unwisely, but shall have succeeded in discharging the responsibility we undertook in keeping our pledges, and not be put into the humiliating position of returning the mandates we have accepted before all the world. We shall find a way out of our difficulties which does not involve any humiliating abandonment of our undertakings, and it seems to me that the practical aspect of this deserves consideration.
I must say a word about Palestine. The expenditure on Palestine for 1921 was £8,000,000. The expenditure in the present year is approximately £4,000,000, and I am expecting to get through the coming year for about £2,000,000. That is not an absolutely unsatisfactory state of affairs, but I am going to point this 1548 out. As to Palestine, I am not in the same position as I am in the treatment of the Iraq question. In Iraq I have been free to follow the best guidance on policy that this country can produce, a policy we believe in—getting the goodwill of the inhabitants. But in Palestine we are pledged, as the Committee well know, to a policy absolutely right in itself, but which, nevertheless, does encounter and must necessarily encounter, a great deal of suspicion and resentment on the part of the majority of the population of Palestine. I am not going to re-argue the whole question of Zionism, or the pledges which were given by us in the War. I do not feel that this is a subject which I need take up at the present time, but I should like to say that I explained it fully to the House last year. We had an able speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Ormsby-Gore) on this question. These are our difficulties, and it is no good saying you are in favour of the Zionist policy. You are in favour of our keeping our word, and at the same time complain that there is a certain amount of irritation and difficulty in Palestine.
I said last year that our policy was one of moderation, endeavouring to persuade one side to concede and the other to forbear, endeavouring to keep a certain modicum of military force available in order to prevent violent collisions between the two sides. There has been a very quiet and peaceful year in Palestine. There was an abortive riot in Jerusalem in November, and some disturbance in Jaffa in May last year, but, broadly speaking, the country has been tranquil, though I do not for a moment pretend that the feeling of irritation, suspicion and disquietude has disappeared from the hearts of the Arab population. The Jewish immigration has been most strictly watched and controlled from the point of view of policy. Every effort has been made to secure only good citizens who will build up the country. We cannot have a country inundated by Bolshevist rifraff, who would seek to subvert institutions in Palestine as they have done with success in the land from which they came. Altogether, about 9,000 immigrants have come in this year, and they bring with them the means of their own livelihood, the Zionist Association expending nearly a million a year in 1549 the country. Some progress has been made with the important water-power works on the head streams of the Jordan River, and agricultural development and roadmaking is proceeding. There is really no reason why, kept within moderate limits on a reasonable scale, this movement should not go on, bringing with it an increase in the material prosperity of the whole country, and particularly of the Arab residents there. I, of course, have been brought up against a very difficult proposition with regard to the Constitution. The Arab Delegation which has been in this country, and other Arabs with whom I have been in touch, have asked, "If you are able to give a free Constitution to Iraq, why cannot we have a similar free Constitution?" And I have decided to go to the utmost possible length in giving them representative institutions, without falling into a position where I could not fulfil those pledges to which we are committed by the Zionist policy. I am bound to retain in the hands of the Imperial Government the power to carry out those pledges. I have, however, strongly urged the Arabs to take part in the new Elective Council and to bring their critical faculty to bear upon all questions connected with the Government of the country and with immigration. The only reservations that must be made are in regard to the measures necessary to enable us to discharge our pledges which we have given before the whole of Europe. The Constitution is on a very wide franchise, but, of course, there is a secondary election. It is not direct election. Nearly everyone has a vote, but those voters elect, I think it is 1,000 secondary electors, and those secondary electors choose the Legislative Council. There are certain nominated members, but there will be a non-official majority upon the Legislative Council. It will not be all Arabs. There, will be some Jews elected, of course. Of course, to our ideas, anything of the nature of a secondary election is, perhaps, objectionable at first sight, although hon. Gentlemen who so greatly admire Russian methods will know that, under the Soviet system, there are as many as six or seven indirect elections. This will be a first experiment. In a country of the character of Palestine it is necessary to fall back upon something of that kind. We shall develop and extend these institutions as they take root.
1550 I would ask the Committee to realise the difficulty of the situation in which we stand, in that we are bound to carry out a great, world-wide pledge—in itself part of a policy of profound significance—which must cause a certain amount of local anxiety and irritation, which we are trying to the best of our power to allay. I must now say a word about Trans-Jordania. I am happy to say that the Emir Abdullah, the brother of King Feisal, has fulfilled our expectations of last year. Conditions in Trans-Jordania are steadily improving, and public security is increasing every day. Only two raids have taken place there since March, 1921, and both were checked at the outset. Four hundred kilometres of railway have been repaired on the Hejaz Railway, and a system of telegraphs is slowly being put into operation. In the Central Province revenue is being collected without trouble, and in the outlying districts arrangements for the collection of revenue are well forward. The country was in a state of complete anarchy a year ago, and the French were complaining every day of the disturbance of their territory owing to the fact that all this territory was in a derelict condition. We have had no troops there at all; it has all been done by a few British officers raising local levies, by an Arab Prince who displays the insignia of his house, which is regarded with the greatest honour, and also by a few armoured cars and occasional small visitations of aeroplanes.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
It has cost about £100,000 to manage this territory—much less than the cost of a single battalion, which, if stationed there, would have been in a very dangerous position, involving us in the greatest difficulty. I have ventured to stray over a considerable field, because I thought it was really convenient that the Committee should be in a position to judge—
§ Lord R. CECIL
Would the right hon. Gentleman explain the item of £30,000 for gendarmerie in Palestine? What, exactly, is that?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The original Estimate for Palestine was something over £3,000,000, and it was then intended that the country should be held by troops under the War Office in the ordinary 1551 way. I proposed to the Cabinet, however, that we should endeavour to effect a further economy by using Indian troops and having a force of white gendarmerie, transferring the control of Palestine entirely to the Colonial Office in the military as well as in the civil sense, as is the case with Iraq, and as is the case with Nigeria, East Africa, and so on—though I do not mean to indicate a similarity of status between those States. The result has been that we have been able to reduce the Estimate for future years by £1,000,000. This gendarmerie is formed to a very large extent from constabulary and auxiliaries who have served in Ireland, and were being disbanded, brought home and thrown on the market. There are altogether some 700 of them, and the greatest care has been taken to select men of the very highest possible character. That enables us to dispense with, at any rate, two British Cavalry regiments, and to effect an enoromus saving in the general expenditure and in the burdens which are put upon us. The amount hero included for the gendarmerie is a small sum for the raising of the force. Next year the amount will be about £350,000, but I hope to recover a certain proportion of that from the Government of Palestine, and I am in communication with the High Commissioner on that point.
§ Lord R. CECIL
Then the right hon. Gentleman is not dealing with the portion of the Estimate relating to the Arabian subsidy?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I will gladly speak about that. I have explained that this is no new charge. In fact, we have spent less than the subsidy which I asked the House to give us in June last. There, again, one has to choose whether gold makes a better weapon than steel or lead. Sometimes it does, and is cheaper in the end. There is no doubt that we 1552 have by these subsidies kept a greater measure of peace than would otherwise have been possible. King Hussein and Ibn Saoud have passed the year in a very tolerable manner, considering the usual state of frontier amenities which prevails between potentates who are not only temporal, but also spiritual rulers. I am certain that it is far better to avoid disturbance by the tranquillising effect of subsidies rather than to have large bodies of troops kept in the country at far greater expense. I cannot guarantee that the future will be unclouded or that no misfortunes will arise; I cannot at all promise that either in Iraq or in Palestine. I can only say that I believe the course we are taking is the best we can take in the circumstances. There is much more reason for thinking it will succeed than there, was last year, and, if the reasons which induced the House last year to assent to a continued occupation of Iraq and Palestine were good, those reasons present themselves to-day in a far stronger form.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
My right hon. Friend has traversed a large area of ground in, as the Committee will agree, a most interesting and attractive fashion; but I suspect that about nine tenths of what he has said has no real relevance to the Vote before the Committee. It is not, however, for the House of Commons, certainly in Committee of Supply, to complain that the Minister in charge of a Vote so enlarges the area of discussion as to permit to humbler people the same liberty or licence. A fact that the Committee would hardly have observed, unless they happened to have read the Supplementary Estimate, is that the only two substantial items which we are now discussing are Items J. l and J. 2—Civil deficit to 31st March, 1921, and Loss by Exchange on Funds supplied by India—both of which ought to have appeared in the Estimates of last year. I do not understand why my right hon. Friend has not said anything about the absence of those two items from the Estimates of last year.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
It was simply because the accounts had not been furnished. There is great delay in the presentment of accounts" from India.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
So I can see, and the result is that the sum of £2,000,000, which ought to have appeared on the Estimates 1553 of last year, appears now for the first time in the month of March in the Estimates for the present year. That really is the whole subject which is before us, except for some more or less minor items; but, since the right hon. Gentleman has himself set the example of latitude, there is no reason why we should not, in our various degrees, follow him. I think that, since the subject at large is open, it is desirable to point out at once what this business of Iraq is really costing us. My right hon. Friend has given us some very formidable figures, and it is very difficult to disentangle the Iraq and the Palestine adventures one from the other. I am sure, however, that I am speaking well within the bounds of statistical moderation when I say that since the Armistice, after allowing for the very large sum which, I agree, had to be expended in demobilising, evacuating, and bringing home the vast forces which at that time, were stationed in that part of the world —I am sure I am well within the mark after making the most liberal and even generous allowances, when I say that that burden of expenditure which has been imposed upon the British taxpayer during those three years has amounted to well over £100,000,000.
§ Mr. CHURCHILLindicated dissent.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
I have examined the figures very carefully, and should say the amount was £100,000,000. The corrected figure the right hon. Gentleman has given us to-day for this year is £29,000,000. I am sure I am not doing an injustice to the Government in saying we have spent an average of £30,000,000 a year in these three years in this particular commitment.
What does that mean? I said the other day in another connection that it was sometimes useful to translate from time to time figures of expenditure into terms of taxation and revenue, and this £30,000,000 a year, which is the average expenditure for this part of the world in the last three years, so translated may be represented in terms of income tax by 7d., or more than 7d., in the £1, or in terms of indirect taxation by the whole of the Sugar Duty and more than the whole, and if you like to put it in another way, by more than twice the whole of the Duty on tea. That is what Iraq has cost the British taxpayer, after you have made 1554 every allowance for the necessary consequences of winding up the War in a region of the world—I am speaking now both of Iraq and Palestine—where the total population does not amount to more than 2¾ millions, if so much, and which therefore means rather more than £10 a head of all the people concerned. And for what? This would not be relevant unless my right hon. Friend had kindly enlarged the area of discussion. I discussed and analysed in some detail last year the hypothesis that we were under obligations of various sorts and kinds to the people concerned. The actual obligations when so analysed amount to nothing more than this. Having conquered, as we did, the Turks in Palestine, in Syria, and in Iraq, we went there under two pledges, and two pledges only, the first of which was that the inhabitants of these regions should not be submitted once more to Turkish subjugation, a pledge which I hope we shall keep, notwithstanding the formidable pronouncement issued this morning, and, secondly, that we should endeavour with all the resources at our disposal, material, moral and administrative, to provide, so far as Iraq is concerned, for the setting up of a free Arab State in such a position, at any rate with such prospects, that it could carry on with the uncoerced assent of the population the development of an independent national existence. I have left out Palestine, I am speaking of Iraq. I will not say what I think of Palestine—I never have said it, and I do not propose to say it now. I quite agree that in Palestine there is a separate obligation arising from commitments from which we cannot recede, whether we think they were right or wrong, about the construction of a national home for the Jews. I had bettor say explicitly that I am speaking throughout of Iraq.
Was it for the redemption of either of these two pledges that this vast expenditure has been incurred? The fact is that in Iraq you tentatively nibbled at, and you have finally repudiated, your first policy, the most ambitious and as it would have turned out, far the most expensive, of what you may call the Indianising of the country. I remember well, in the first speech I made in this House after a temporary absence, pointing out that in the Estimates of that year there was Item after Item—railways, acquisition of 1555 land, construction of barracks and that kind of thing—which could only be justified and explained on the assumption that you were going to deal with Iraq as a province or district which was to be governed in the Indian fashion. You had able men there of the Anglo-Indian type. The whole thing was laid out just like plotting out an estate, on Anglo-Indian lines. These skilled administrators of ours had found a new area for the exercise of their inventive and great executive-ability. That really was the assumption on which the Estimates were presented in the first year after the War. Happily that is as dead as Queen Anne. The next policy—I do not say it was pursued or developed at any length by the Government though there were some expressions used by the Prime Minister which gave at any rate semi-official patronage to it—was the policy of exploitation. This country was supposed to be a possible source of wealth, of industrial development, oil, and other resources which made it a desirable possession for the British people. I think we have now come to the con-elusion that if anything of that kind is done it must be done by private enterprise alone. Then there was a third policy. It was said to be a necessary strategic link for the defence of India.
§ Mr. CHURCHILLindicated dissent.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
I am sure my right hon. Friend never shared it, but it was shared by a great many people. That has gone by the board too. My right hon. Friend, I think, repudiated it last year. I did too. It was the greatest nonsense. I think the gallant general whom I see opposite repudiated it too.
§ Sir CHARLES TOWNSHEND
Yes. I repudiated it as being strategically necessary. I said it was a great blunder.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
That, I believe, represents the most enlightened military opinion. All these three possible alternative policies are now repudiated by universal consent, and any expenditure which is to be justified as a means or a contribution to the attainment of anyone of them is expenditure which cannot be defended in this House. I am delighted that my right hon. Friend is now supplied with all that he and his responsible advisers think to be necessary for the 1556 discharge of our responsibilities in Iraq, by the retention of eight squadrons of the Air Force.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
I am not disposed to indulge in anything of the nature of recrimination. The way of the transgressor is hard, and it ought to be made harder. When the wicked man sees the error of his ways and retraces his steps we ought to make his path to a better frame of mind as smooth and as easy as we can. Therefore, no word of recrimination or reproach as regards the past will escape my lips to-day. My right hon. Friend spoke of the controversial spirit that I showed when I spoke on this subject last July, and enlarged, as I agree I did, on the number of hypothetical conditions on which his sanguine, but not, I think, very confident, estimate of the future then depended. I only followed his own example. Here are his words:If the arrangements we are now making are successful, and if the policy which rendered these arrangements possible is carried out, and if it is not interrupted by any untoward trouble. I am putting in a great many 'ifs'. Long and varied experience leads me to safeguard myself as effectively as possible.He never said a wiser thing. Never did a Minister entrench himself behind a more impregnable stockade of suppositions than my right hon. Friend did on that occasion. All that I did was to reduce his abstractives to concrete form. Anxious as I am to believe, and ready as I am to hope, that we shall be able to reduce our expenditure in this part of the world to £8,000,000, I think we are apt in these days to indulge in the habit of shouting "hurrah"—not only about Iraq—and throwing up our hats and ringing our joy bells before we are quite out of the wood.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I hope my right hon. Friend will notice that I have kept all my "ifs" in being. I have not withdrawn one of them.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
My right hon. Friend is not under the illusion which possesses some of those with whom he co-operates. I am not speaking in a controversial sense at all. I want to point out to the Committee that in regard to this matter of Iraq there are still two very serious hypothetical conditions, the fulfilment of which in the sense that we all should desire is essential to enable as to accept, 1557 without the fear of Supplementary Estimates, my right hon. Friend's figure of £8,000,000 or £9,000,000. What are they? The first is one on which he has touched very lightly, the question of Kurdistan. Geographically, I understand that Mosul is excluded from Kurdistan for the purpose of this arrangement, and is now part of what he calls the Iraq State, but even Mosul, I understand, is not now held by Arab levies, but by British troops.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
British and Indian troops. Last year we were told, and I suppose it is the case now, that Southern Kurdistan, which is more remote, further north, is not to be part, at any rate, in the first instance, of the Iraq State, and that separate arrangements would be made. I should like to know whether that has been done. Will the right hon. Gentleman say if anything has been done?
§ Mr. ASQUITH
That is a comparatively unimportant point. The real question is this: When I spoke last year—and it was agreed to and, I think, anticipated by the Secretary of State himself—I said that the situation in Iraq could never be secure, and our contemplated progressive reductions from year to year could never be regarded as anything but hypothetical, unless there was a real and lasting Treaty with Turkey and Greece, an arrangement which must take the form, I think everybody now agrees, of a modification, at any rate, of the Treaty of Sevres. Unless there is an arrangement come to, with the authority of the great Powers, and, I should hope, the League of Nations, for the adjustment of the territorial sovereign rights of the powers of the majorities and the privileges of the minorities in that part of the world, Iraq will never be secure, and you will never be able to reach the £7,000,000, £8,000,000, £9,000,000 or the £4,000,000 or £3,000,000 Budget which my right hon. Friend contemplates in the not remote future. They are all illusory things and absolutely unstable unless you can bring about a real, permanent, guaranteed arrangement between Turkey and the other Powers.
I do not want to say anything that might in any way embarrass negotiations 1558 on that subject, which, I understand are going on or will shortly go on in Paris; but I should not be doing my duty, particularly after the remarkably grave, even formidable pronouncement which has appeared only to-day, under conditions, as we have gathered from answers given from the Treasury Bench which are absolutely unexampled. I have known nothing like it in my time. After that pronouncement, which comes apparently with the authority not only of the Indian Government, but of the Indian Government after consultation with the Governors of the different Presidencies—[HON. MEMBERS: "Speak up. We cannot hear you."]—it is of the utmost importance that no illusions should be allowed to exist as to our policy in the Middle East. Speaking for myself, I will never be a party to any policy which has in intention or in effect the re-establishment of Turkish rule over large bodies of Christian populations. I am not in the least degree a fanatical anti-Moslem. I quite recognise, perhaps nobody' more, the feeling of our vast Mahommedan population in India—we are a great Mahommedan Power after all—and nothing ought to be done which is not dictated by considerations of justice and high policy, which would in any way be offensive to their sentiments and susceptibilities. But we all know what Turkish rule has meant: not Mahommedan rule. I make the greatest possible distinction between them. I am not speaking of any form or regime of Government which is the essential or logical development of the principles of the Mahommedan faith, or of the practice of the Mahommedan creed; but I am speaking of the rule of this sterilising, devastating power over the Christian populations both of Europe and some parts of Asia. Anyone who bears that record in view will never allow this country to be a party to such an arrangement.
§ Sir C. TOWNSHEND
As one who has criticised our policy in Iraq in the past year or so, I feel great satisfaction at seeing that the Government have made this strenuous effort to reduce the garrison. The right hon. Gentleman made reference to my plan for holding the seaborad province of Busra with 12 battalions. That is true, but with that plan one would guarantee security against all comers. The plan of the right 1559 hon. Gentleman now is one of four battalions, or one brigade, coupled with an air force of eight squadrons, and an irregular native levy. I hope that that plan will be a secure one, but I agree with the right hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) that it depends upon whether or not we make peace with Turkey. Absolutely that is the key to the whole situation, not only in Iraq but in India and Central Asia, as most people will agree. With regard to the rest of the argument, I do not propose to say anything. The question of Iraq has been threshed out several times in the House. I should, however, like to recognise the strenuous work and the ability shown by the right hon. Gentleman in coping with the situation. I feel satisfaction that a plan has been adopted which is a practical evacuation, and I hope the Government will succeed in the Measure which has been so ably explained by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. ORMSBY-GORE
I do not propose to embark upon the somewhat dangerous ground and wide discussion of our policy in regard to Turkey, which has been made increasingly serious by to-day's news, more particularly because I think that the right hon. Member for Paisley was perilously near the bounds of order in the comments which he most carefully chose. The right hon. Gentleman in introducing the Supplementary Estimates was somewhat wide in his general discussion of the whole position in Iraq. I am sure that it is no use any longer flogging the old dead horse of what might have been done after the Armistice until the right hon. Gentleman took over Iraq from the Foreign Office and the India Office, or, rather, from the Curzon Committee of the Cabinet. There is no use going into these wasted millions which were wasted by the Middle Eastern Committee of the Cabinet in a wrong policy. We have to-day to congratulate ourselves on the fact that the new policy has turned out better than a great many people anticipated. I think that the right hon. Gentleman can now withdraw, not all the "ifs," but most of them. The mere fact that Emir Feisal has been King of Iraq, running an Arab administration through Arab Ministers, with very little news coming through to this country from 1560 Bagdad, augurs well. In this I think we might say that no news is good news. Had there been any serious difficulties or disturbances, we should have heard of them. It is clear that the new Arab policy in Iraq is going slowly but steadily forward, and that whereas its success when last we discussed this subject, appeared to be something in the nature of a gamble, the odds in favour of its success are steadily increasing.
But the Committee must not be in too sanguine a mood. Apart altogether from the effects of the Turkish situation, which may be by to-day's events landed once more into a serious position, it is going to be a long time before the agricultural and mineral development of Palestine is adequate to pay back some of the money which we have advanced on preparing for its development. But I do not regard Iraq in that light. Once formerly the great granary of Asia, containing literally millions of fertile acres, devastated by nearly 400 years of Turksh rule, it is full of oil that can one day repay the world, and I regard ourselves as temporary trustees who have an international obligation of seeing Iraq on to the road to prosperity. I am sure that the verdict of history, not the verdict of penny newspapers here, but the verdict of history 40 years hence, will justify the British House of Commons to-day. Iraq all through its history has been a difficult and expensive country to run. During the 350 years in which the Turk was in occupation, it never paid him. He always had to maintain garrisons there, and unless and until Iraq is developed, we are bound to pay something for it, and I think that we can congratulate ourselves at any rate on the fact that since the Colonial Office took over from the India and the Foreign Office the guidance of policy in Iraq, the reductions have gone on at a very rapid and increasingly rapid rate. For that I believe we have in the main to thank, not only the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Churchill), but those experts in the Middle Eastern Department who know something of the Arabs and of the country, and have studied the matter, and whose advice there was an inclination to disregard on the part of those who were all powerful in this matter a few years ago.
Coming to the details of the Supplementary Estimate, there are one or two matters as to which the Committee would be interested to hear from the Under- 1561 Secretary when he replies. In the first place, the civil deficit to 31st March, 1921, is the principal item in this Estimate, and amounts to over £1,000,000. It is the deficit on civilian administration during the last year of what I call the Anglo-Indian regime before the new policy was started. The Committee ought to know what the civil expenditure is as a whole. We only have before us the deficit. We ought to know how much Iraq raised in local revenue towards defraying the civil administration. Further, lest we be called upon to pass any further Supplementary Estimate of this character shortly, we ought to have from the Under-Secretary some figures for the current year on this particular point—what is the civil revenue and what the civil deficit, if any, is likely to be—because we do not want Ministers coming here again and again on this question of Iraq if we can avoid it. The loss by exchange on funds supplied by India is a matter for which it is hard to blame the Government or the policy in Iraq. That is the next largest item in this Supplementary Estimate. It is really fortuitous and not the result of policy.
There are some questions of detail with regard to smaller items. I believe that I am the only Member in this House who has ever taken much interest by way of asking questions in what has been going on ever since the Armistice in South Western Arabia, that is to say, along the Southern coast of the Red Sea. Here we have an item at last which is concerned with this—the expense of a political resident at Hodeidah pending the completion of negotiations, that are contemplated with the view of concluding an agreement with the Idrisi of Asir. When the Armistice with Turkey was concluded, and even when the Treaty of Sevres was drafted, we left the whole of this part of the world in the air. There is nothing in the Treaty of Sèvres and nothing in the terms of the Armistice, except that the Turk is to be evacuated out of these former provinces. Nothing has ever been stated as to what is the policy of His Majesty's Government or the Allies and what is to be the future of this part of the world. Most people do not know, but it is a fact, that the population of this corner of the world exceeds the total population of Iraq to-day. To-day the frontier is, of course, all along the frontier of this Protectorate out of which 1562 a great many of the tribes and the Turk broke during the War. In order to deal with the situation, we entered into a preliminary treaty with the potentate who is mentioned hero, the Idrisi, who is a somewhat new arrival in Arabia, and apparently it is proposed to appoint a political officer to enter into further negotiations with him.
I think that the Committee, before voting the salary of that political officer, ought to know exactly what he proposes to do and what he is doing and has done, because for two years we maintained a garrison in this town of Hodeidah, which is within the Idrisi's sphere of influence, while the hinterland belongs to another potentate. We spent a considerable sum of money in maintaining that garrison, and I understand now that we have evacuated it, but on what terms I do not know and what the future attitude of the British Government is to be in that part of the world I should like to know. It is important internationally because it is immediately opposite the Italian colony of Eritrea and a great deal of exploration work has been done by this colony. We should have some statement of policy as to what is to be done in this question, especially as Aden is being taken over by the Colonial Office. With reference to Arabian subsidies, I hope that they will not be lumped together in a single figure. £200,000. We should be told exactly who is being subsidised. We all know that in the later stages of the War the India Office were backing one man and the Foreign Office were backing another. Both were supplying gold and arms to the men whom they backed and those resources were used by these men to fight each other. That portion of the Colonial Office's activity has ceased and they only agree to a subsidy if the parties do not fight. That is a much better system. Parliament ought to know what is the exact amount of subsidy voted to each of these independent Arab rulers, and what are the conditions upon which that subsidy is granted.
As to the Palestine gendarmerie, I am not sure that it is really well officered. That is the most important point. It should be officered by officers who have some knowledge of the very peculiar conditions of the country. Such a force will be far more valuable and far cheaper than, say, a similar force of cavalry, and a gendarmerie is really the ideal force. I would appeal to the right hon. 1563 Gentleman to see that very great care is taken in selecting men of good character for this force. It is not an easy country to police, and, above all, the cities of Jerusalem and Jaffa, in both of which I spent some months, are particularly difficult cities to police. In Jaffa the members of the three faiths, Mahommedans, Jews, and Christians, are about equal in numbers. Jerusalem is not much of a commercial city, but it is a city where the three faiths are, more or less, concentrated in their religious activities, and, whether under Turks or Arabs, it is notorious that the city of Jerusalem is very liable to explosions. That is to say, you are liable to get a Jewish feast, a Christian feast, and a Mahommedan feast—or fast, as the case may be—happening upon the same day. Religious processions take place, the crowd is worked up into a state of religious fanaticism, and then the whole thing goes, as though one put a match to paper. Out comes the knives and revolvers, and there is bloodshed.
The maintenance of a gendarmerie which is outside local religious passions is absolutely essential to the peace of these cities. I have myself seen the conditions, and in this country people who have not seen the conditions do not realise, that in a holy city—and Jerusalem is purely and only a holy city—everybody who lives there is a witness to his faith. There are 42 separate Christian communities, each sect with its cherished chapels, its cherished sites and its cherished rites. Under the Turkish régime the Turkish gendarmerie had to be maintained, even inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to prevent the sort of thing which will always have to be prevented there, namely, religious quarrels. Therefore, I hope this force will be of the very highest character in the matter of discipline, considering the duties it will have to perform and the task it will have to carry out. That duty will be most difficult and delicate when riots happen such as the fearful riots of last year. In such cases you can collect evidence from both sides, under which you can prove everybody in the wrong or everybody in the right.
§ Mr. ORMSBY-GORE
It is peculiarly so in Palestine. It is essential you should have a special force there, in addition to the ordinary local police, to prevent these disturbances. One must say this of the Turks, that during the Turkish régime, except for intersectarian quarrels among some of the Christian sects, there were very few religious riots. They only occurred occasionally, because they were always put down and put down at once. The one thing in which the Turks did show strength was in preventing clashes between Jew and Christian, Jew and Mahommedan, Mahommedan and Christian, as the case might be. April is the dangerous month there. Every April every year, this force will be wanted in Palestine, and if you get the Roman Easter and the Greek Easter and the Jewish Passover and a Mahommedan festival all in the same week, you will have to reinforce the garrison.
I wish next to ask a question relating to the refugees. There is a further sum put down here for refugees, although only the other day we wore discussing a previous Vote for refugees. It would be a great improvement if the Treasury could put down in one single Supplementary Estimate the total amount we are being asked to pay for refugees in different parts of the world. They are always cropping up, and it would look at first sight as if this sum belonged to the Iraq account, but again it is the Russian business. These are Russian refugees and Armenian refugees who have found their way into Iraq, and therefore the Vote was put under the heading of Iraq. It is high time we had a Refugee Vote quite separately, and I think that Armenian and Russian refugees should not be shown under the Vote for the Middle East, but under a Foreign Office Vote. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Colonies in his opening speech told us nothing as to the numbers of the native levies he has so far raised. There is a sum of £287,000 for native levies in Iraq. I advocated the formation of these levies in this House in 1919, and have consistently supported it, and I rejoice to hear that the matter is so well under way, but before voting this money the Committee should be told precisely what progress has been made with these levies. We should have some idea as to the numbers and the organisation; we should know what is the British 1565 officer personnel, if any, what is the Arab officer personnel, if any, and, shortly, what is the rôle of these levies. Are they recruited from the town populations of Bagdad, Basra, and Mosoul, or from the tribes? The Committee should be informed on all those matters.
I should also like to ask what is the present status and what is going to be the future status of the railway in Iraq. If the railway is going to be kept as a State railway I am quite sure it will not pay. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and I had a terrible time during our recent visit to the West Indies on account of the Jamaica railway, and I do not want to see another Jamaica railway in Iraq. Before voting any money to defray any deficit on the working of this railway the Committee should be told what is going to be the future of the railway. My own impression is that the sooner it is sold to a company the better. The company is much more likely to make extensions and to make it a paying commercial proposition than if it were retained as a State railway. I have spoken in many Debates on Iraq, and one of the first speeches I made on this question criticised the flooding of the Iraq railway with Indian personnel. The overstaffing of the railway with Indian personnel was one of the reasons for high expenditure, and was a cause of friction. I should like to know if it is true that the greater part of the Indian civilian personnel have been sent back to India, and what steps are being taken to put the railway on a self-supporting basis and a local basis—that is to say, to have it officered and worked, as far as possible, by local Iraq inhabitants.
Finally, I wish to add a word of appreciation of the work and the efforts made by the new King of Iraq, the Emir Feisal. Those who came across him in this country or who have known him at all have formed a very high opinion of his personality and character, and I am quite sure this country not only owes a great deal to Feisal for what he did during the War, but still more for the tact and forbearance he has shown in the difficult times since, and even more for his readiness and willingness to step into the breach in Iraq, because I am satisfied if it had not been for him we should have had the greatest difficulty in finding an Arab ruler to run that State. Of the 1566 other available candidates there was not one who could have done nearly so well, and but for him we should have been landed into great difficulties and into further expenditure. The loyalty he has always shown to this country and the regard ho has for this country deserve reciprocal recognition by anybody referring to Iraq, and as this is the first Debate on the subject we have had since he has actually been on the throne, I should like, as one of his personal friends, to pay my tribute to the part he has played.
§ Major-General SEELY
The Secretary of State for the Colonies announced today a very remarkable policy, and one of an entirely novel character. It is a policy which has been advocated by my hon. Friend who has just spoken, and by others in this House, and perhaps I may say, especially by myself, and I may be permitted to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on having carried it out in so thorough a manner. It is proposed to do this astonishing thing—to hand over the defence of this vast country of Iraq to the Air Force. Not only is it to be defended practically solely by air, but the defence is to be entrusted to an air officer, and by that means it is proposed to reduce the number of battalions—which, of course, is the measure of the cost—from an original estimate of something like 30 to 34 to only four, and to maintain only four battalions and eight squadrons of aeroplanes. By that means he trusts to keep the peace. Whether we withdraw to Basra, as has been proposed from these benches, or maintain garrisons at Bagdad, Mosoul, and elsewhere—whichever policy is followed—it is claimed by my right hon. Friend that we may reduce expenditure from a minimum estimate of £20,000,000 a year to a sum of about £2,000,000 a year. That is economy with a vengeance and should satisfy even the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury), who has persistently claimed to be the greatest economiser in these regions.
It is worth examining the question of whether there is any alternative policy which can be put forward by any body of opinion in this House. When my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for New-castle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) addresses the House, he may inform the Committee what would be the policy of 1567 the Labour party. Hitherto, that party, and also the party which follows the hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith), have not said that their policy would be one of evacuating Iraq altogether. They realise that, having accepted the mandate, and with our peculiar position on the Persian Gulf, we cannot go away altogether, and their proposal has been to retire to Basra, or, at any rate, to a series of forts at the head of the Persian Gulf and defend them—in other words to have another Aden. The position would be similar to that in Aden. Any one who has been in Aden knows the extraordinary difficulty of keeping the health of the garrison satisfactory, and the immense cost of maintaining it there. At the present moment, so far as I know—I do not think it is confidential—we have a force in Aden which will be about as much as the force which the right hon. Gentleman proposes to maintain in Iraq when he has completed his policy. Instead of being able to maintain order, we would be sitting there in that most unsatisfactory of positions, always on the defensive, and in the most unwholesome place in the whole inhabited world. The actual cost, if you take Aden as a guide, and if you take Berbera, in Somaliland, as a guide, would be far more than the amount which the Secretary of State for the Colonies now hopes he will be able to come down to.
It is a most interesting experiment. It opens up vistas of economy compared with which anything suggested by the Geddes Committee is really as nothing. If this experiment succeeds, you will be able to do the most astonishing things all over the world in the way of reducing the number of your garrisons, and especially in the way of reducing the number of garrisons in unhealthy places, but do not let anyone think that the Secretary of State's statement will go unchallenged. I know it will be bitterly opposed by all old-fashioned people, and possibly by some others. It has already been denounced, and I am afraid there is one old-fashioned Friend of ours here who will say with vigour that to attempt to substitute the good old infantry by these new-fangled aeroplanes is bound to lead this country to disaster. I paraphrase what he will say, but there are others. Already we have seen mutterings in the Press, and I have heard very eloquent 1568 speeches denouncing the policy from other sources. Who is right so far as we have been able to go? I have seen a number of people who have come back from Iraq, where this policy is being carried out against the violent opposition of what I must term the War Office—I do not say the present Secretary of State for War, but the old-fashioned military idea. If the War Office are right, we are going to be landed in disaster, and instead of diminishing the cost from £20,000,000 to £2,000,000, we shall land ourselves into untold millions of expenditure, but, if they are wrong, we are going to save all this money and administer the country in a more economical and merciful fashion.
Let us see what has happened so far During the past year there have been four little rebellions, and the Secretary of State told us that, so far as is known, the casualties have been in the neighbourhood of three or four killed and three or four wounded due to air accidents. At a place called Naziriyah there was trouble. If it had not been for aeroplanes, we should have sent an expedition which would have taken several weeks to get there, and there would have been considerable casualties, but on this occasion aeroplanes flow over and dropped a warning. At the appropriate interval they came back and dropped a more efficient form of warning in the shape of a bomb or two, and the very next day the inhabitants came in and apologised and surrendered. That was in September last. There is another place called Bani Said, where an exactly similar thing happened in the last year. There again a warning was conveyed by aeroplane; there again the political officer himself went to the place, or as near as he could, to explain to them that they really must keep the peace; there again it was necessary to take hostile action in the form of dropping bombs upon such bodies as could be seen; and there again within a week the whole body came in and surrendered. Now I will come to this year. All this I have heard from people who have been on the spot. Not far from Basra, as distances go in that country, a tribe went into open rebellion; that is to say, they refused either to pay taxes or to allow the District Commissioner to approach the place, or any political officers to go there. Again we sent a warning by aeroplane, and again, the warning not having been attended to, 1569 aeroplanes were sent for hostile action, and yet again within a week the whole party came in and surrendered.
It may be said that all these are places in the plains—and that is so—but what about Kurdistan, of which we heard a good deal from the right hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith)? There are steep mountains there, where, it is said, aeroplanes are valueless, but, really, it is quite the other way; according to my information, the argument is all the other way. It is just in those mountainous regions that the advance of troops is so dangerous, as in the defiles on the Indian frontier. Your men are picked off at considerable distances by the modern rifles, and, in fact, it is true to say that, for infantry operating in these countries, in frontier warfare the improvements in modern weapons tell against our power, both in India and in Iraq and such places, and that more infantry are required to perform the same operations. That view is strongly held by the War Office. It has, indeed, been openly expressed, and I believe it to be entirely true, because the power of the modern rifle in the hands of the sniper multiplies his power for destruction tenfold or a hundredfold, but if you adopt the entirely new methods of strategy involved in attacking from the air, you do not attack the enemy by means of a prolonged expedition. The last time I spoke on this question and urged that this policy should be adopted, little knowing how soon it would be adopted, we had not got such good concrete cases as we now have. The Sulaimaniyah, in Kurdistan, rebelled three years ago. We had to send an expedition at once. There were very heavy casualties, and it took six weeks to restore order by flying columns operating at extraordinary speed. Exactly the same type of thing happened in the same region with the same people last January. Air power was, however, employed, and the warning was issued within a day. The result not being satisfactory, an attack was delivered within 48 hours, and as these gentlemen did not surrender a further attack was delivered two days later, on this occasion the attack being delivered from Bagdad, 160 miles away, without the machines ever coming down, and within a few days the whole party again surrendered and are now loyal, and, let us hope, contented subjects.
1570 Anything more dramatic than that one could not well find, and I think the right hon. Gentleman did no more than justice when he paid tribute to the Air Ministry and the Secretary of State for Air, and especially to Sir Hugh Trenchard for the tremendous energy he has put into applying this new method of warfare to this territory and the remarkable success which has already attended his efforts. There may be an objection raised to the employment of air power in this way, that it is cruel, but I believe that the exact contrary is the case. It is said to be cruel to bomb unfortunate women and children, but that is an absurd doctrine. What difference is there between releasing a projectile from the air and firing it from a gun, except that in one case your range is limited to a few thousand yards and in the other case it is extended to several hundred miles? So far as mercy is concerned, the result is exactly the same, and many hon. Members in this Committee at this moment who spent many months and years on the Western Front during the War will, I am sure, agree that it never occurred to us that there was anything more brutal in a bomb dropped from an aeroplane than in a bomb fired out of a gun. That argument will not bear a moment's examination, but it has been advanced, and in important sections of the Press, with the sole object of depreciating this new weapon, with its astonishing power, which, it must be admitted, if successful in the way it has been here, will completely revolutionise our whole conceptions of not only tactics, but strategy as well, while really important people might be relegated to the shelf, and other people, not perhaps so important, but younger, advanced to important positions, which may indeed save us untold millions of money.
It is always a very bad thing to say "I told you so," but I cannot help saying it this time. Two years ago, when I resigned from the Government, I ventured to address the House until they were bored, and again and again I said, "If you will adopt the air policy, you will save thousands of lives and millions of money." I said it so often that I am sure I bored the House to distraction, but here we have the Secretary of State for the Colonies coming down and announcing that he has already saved many millions and that he expects to save 1571 something in the nature of £20,000,000 a year in this one single theatre of the British Empire. I do not wish to detain the Committee longer, except to say this. How is it that this remarkable result has been attained in this case, how is it that, although Iraq is not more peculiarly suited to this method of policing and maintaining our Empire than many other parts, this is the only place where it is being applied in this novel manner? Of course, we all know it is because the Cabinet, for some reason which seems to have worked very well, handed over the whole business apparently — military, naval, and air—to one Minister, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and he impartially decided to do it this way, with the remarkable result that I have described. Why cannot we do it elsewhere if it is wise to do it elsewhere? The reason is the jealousy between the three Services, and I do not really believe that you will get the economies all over the Empire which you have got here unless you take some steps, and take them at once.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The right hon. Gentleman will not be in order in entering upon the subject generally, apart from the question of the air defences of Iraq.
§ Major-General SEELY
I bow at once to your ruling, sir. I thought it was germane to the subject to say that one could save money elsewhere, but I will not pursue that point. I will only cordially congratulate the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Secretary of State for Air on the success which has so far attended their efforts, beg of them not to relax them, especially not to be afraid of the formidable attacks which will come from old-fashioned people, and assure them that there is a great body of opinion in this House which will back them up with all its power in adopting and developing this efficient and merciful means of maintaining our Empire.
Sir J. D. REES
The right hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) has every right to address the House in regard to Mesopotamia, over and above the right which attaches to his great position, for it was he and his Government who took us there. I am not saying that in order to say that it was the wrong thing to do, but it is a fact that is very frequently forgotten, and in his speech he made two 1572 important statements, with one of which I heartily concur and the other of which I profoundly regret. He complained, as I have done whenever I have had the opportunity, of the Indianisation of Mesopotamia, the introduction into it of almost every blessing of modern civilisation except female suffrage and continuation schools, the complete conversion of that country of nomads into a pale reflection of a British Indian district, which naturally drove the people there to revolt. I have often complained of this, and I will now content myself with saying that I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say what he did upon that subject. Being an Indian civil servant myself does not at all blind my eyes to the folly and weakness of introducing a form of government the people do not want, by spending the taxpayers' money on making the Arabs uncomfortable and making ourselves unpopular. But the right hon. Member for Paisley could not resist the temptation, to which almost every Member of this House succumbs, whenever he comes upon Eastern subjects, of saying something which must further embitter the natural—I believe, the perfectly natural—feelings of discontent and resentment which animate our Mahommedan fellow-subjects. He said, with regard to Iraq and Palestine, that he would be no party ever to bringing under Turkish domination any Christian nation. I do not know who made us princes and governors over the whole world, to set up and pull down, to build and destroy. Why is it necessary for my right hon. Friend, in dealing with this subject, to follow the example, so unfortunately set in many quarters of this House, of taking the whole Turkish and Christian problem as being one to which there are not two sides, but everything against the Turk and in favour of the Christian?
Sir J. D. REES
No; I had, in fact, done with it. My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Ormsby-Gore) referred to affairs in Palestine. I want to ask the Secretary of State whether the Palestine mandate is absolutely irrevocable, because the advantages to us I for one cannot see, and it seems to me a deplorable thing that we should be 1573 keeping down the Arabs in their own country at a large expense to our own country, for the sake of a comparatively small number of people who are really strangers, except in a religious sense, in that land. All this is being done in order to carry out some pledge, which I myself, having frequently read the text, which has been freely annotated, do not think bears the interpretation put upon it, or does irrevocably commit this country to its uncomfortable sojourn in Palestine. If the Secretary of State replies, I hope he will say something on that subject, which, I notice, Ministers invariably shirk. My right hon. Friend has an opportunity which, I hope, he will take. May I come, for a moment, to the subsidies? I hope these subsidies will be stopped. It does not appear to me that the British taxpayer gets any adequate return for the large sums of money which are paid to subsidise these Arab potentates. I cannot think that King Hussein has really conducted himself, as my right hon. Friend said, in a tolerable manner.
Sir J. D. REES
He may not have the cash, like some of the others, but he is supported by us, and, if not, he would not be where he is; neither would King Feisal. My hon. and gallant Friend, whose information about Iraq, I admit, is far greater than mine, as he has been there quite recently, long since I have been there, and I hope he is right in thinking that King Feisal, whom we have put on the throne, will be as successful as he anticipates, although I cannot help remembering the sinister end of a similar venture on the borders of India. I turn to the question of the Russian refugees. Ever since the Armistice, I have continually brought this matter before the House, and protested against this expenditure. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs said the other day:The British High Commissioner in the Black Sea gave an undertaking, as to the wisdom of which I will say nothing to-day, that His Majesty's Government would become responsible for the officers and families of General Denikin's force."— [OFFICIAL, REPORT, 7th March, 1922; cols. 1113–4, Vol. 151.]
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
On a point of Order. I think that the £158,000 under Sub-head J is entirely for Armenians, and that the Russian 1574 refugees come under another Vote, which we discussed earlier in the week, when the hon. Baronet was, unfortunately, not here.
Sir J. D. REES
I am surprised that the hon. and gallant Gentleman should grudge me a little of that irrelevance, in which he so freely indulges. I do not mean to deal with this subject, but it is one to which I have devoted myself more than any Member of this House in resenting expenditure to which the British taxpayer has been committed under this head. I did not understand the Under-Secretary of State, and I think the matter ought to be cleared up. He says, "the officers and families." They do not amount to over 10,000 people.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The question of the Armenian refugees has nothing to do with a promise of the High Commissioner.
Sir J. D. REES
I confess that I really thought on Report to-day we could cover ground which was covered in Committee.
§ The CHAIRMAN
It is an entirely different Vote. If the hon. Baronet will look at the explanatory note, to which the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull called my attention, he will see that this is confined to Armenian refugees.
Sir J. D. REES
I will say that I raise an equal objection to the expenditure on behalf of the Armenians. It is a most distressing thing that there should be no subject connected with the East which does not represent us as favouring the Armenians and Greeks as against the Turks. I want, in conclusion, to ask the Secretary of State why he invariably calls Mesopotamia "Iraq," because Mesopotamia consists of two portions, one Arabian and one Persian. The Persian portion, speaking entirely from recollection, is almost as extensive, and certainly more populous than the Arabian Iraq, and, in the interests of precision, it would be very desirable that this should either be spoken of as Arabian Iraq, or else revert to the term "Mesopotamia," which, 1575 at any rate, has a well-established meaning. Shall I be in order in referring to relief in Russia, £15,000?
§ The CHAIRMAN
Will the hon. Baronet direct my attention to where the item is? I have not seen it. He is speaking of another Vote.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
The right hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) pointed out that the success or the failure of our policy in Iraq must depend, primarily, upon the successful termination of our semi-hostilities with Turkey, and he urged upon the Committee the desirability of harbouring no illusions as to the critical nature of affairs in the East, as exemplified by the telegram we have seen from the Viceroy for the first time to-day. He urged that we should be under no illusions, and I will also urge that even the Indian administration should be under no illusions.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I have made myself acquainted with what the right hon. Gentleman said on the question, on which the hon. and gallant Gentleman is now embarking, and it would not be in order to pursue that beyond what the hon. and gallant Gentleman has said.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I will be very brief. I do not wish us to be under any illusions as to the position in the East. The Mussulman in India will not be satisfied with any concessions so far as Iraq or the Holy places—
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I should like to point out that, in my opinion, it is; in order to reply to the argument used by the right hon. Member for Paisley. The settlement in the East depends far more upon the democratic settlement in India itself, and Mussulman sentiment will not be satisfied merely by—
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I must, in that case, leave this subject, owing to the ruling of the Chair, but I would like to say that I, at any rate, regard the resignation of the Secretary of State for 1576 India, which is wrapped up with this question, with the greatest possible regret, and that I consider that that resignation will have an effect—
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am coming to the conclusion that the hon. and gallant Gentleman is trying to evade my ruling.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
The remark has been made by someone, I forget at the moment who, that most of the master class come under one of two categories —those who do their physical exercises before breakfast and those who intend to do so. The right hon. Gentleman, the Secretary of State, who has addressed the House to-day, seems to me to come under the second of these categories. He is always going to economise. He has been in charge of the Middle East since January, 1921, and the expenditure of the Colonial Office in connection with the Middle East Department during this past year has amounted to £30,000,000 of money, expenditure in no way associated with the demobilisation of the Army after the War. I do not call that a very satisfactory result of 14 months' administration, but we have been promised that next year the expenditure will be cut down and that we shall have an estimate not of £30,000,000 a year but of £10,000,000 a year. So far so good, but do not expect from this side of the House any excessive congratulation of the Colonial Secretary for, at the end of three years, bringing our expenditure down to £10,000,000 of money, even if there be the prospect of further reductions in future years. The policy he is now carrying out has been advocated consistently for the last three years not only by the Labour party but by the Free Liberal party as well, and it has taken the Government three years to adopt that policy, just as they were three years late in Ireland and elsewhere.
We have gradually come round to an economical policy in connection with Iraq, but the charge still remains £10,500,000 a year, even on the Estimates as revised both by the Geddes Committee and the right hon. Gentleman. This charge is one which the taxpayers of this country cannot permanently carry on their shoulders, and we must protest against the £10,500,000 next year or the 1577 charges which may come due in the succeeding years. We must protest against that charge being permanently a burden upon the British taxpayer. In all other Crown Colonies, where there has been a deficit, and where they have had to come on the British taxpayer to make good the difference between revenue and expenditure, that Grant-in-Aid has been treated as a debt. It has not been written off; it has not been charged against the taxpayer as expenditure, but it has been booked as one of the debts which has to be taken into account when that Crown Colony becomes self-governing or becomes solvent. What has been done in connection with Nigeria should be done in connection with Iraq; whether it be £4,000,000, £3,000,000, or £2,000,000 a year, those sums should be charged up against the permanent debt of that territory or Crown Colony. We have no right to leave it entirely to the British taxpayer to bear the burden. We have to remember that the British taxpayer in Iraq is handing over assets to the Iraq Government of King Feisal which are far more valuable than even those grants-in-aid of £30,000,000 or £10,000,000. During the War there were very valuable railways in Iraq. After the War there were enormous experimental farms established, drainage works made, and canals cut, all at the expense of the British taxpayer. Now, according to the Geddes Report, these assets are being sold off by the British Government at slaughter prices, under circumstances where purchasers are few and money extremely hard to come by, so that the assets which ought to stand to the credit of the British taxpayer are being got rid of to private capitalists.
Iraq railways are a case in point. I have no idea what those railways cost —probably £50,000,000 would not be an over-estimate. They are being sold off. They may even be sold off now for a song. I do not know whether we shall be able to get the price from my right hon. Friend who represents the Colonial Office. I would like to know what they are being sold off for and what they cost the taxpayers of Great Britain. But we on these Benches protest against the sale altogether. What we should like would be to have the railways leased for terms of years, but do not let these assets be sacirficed in perpetuity in order that some body of European capitalists may come in during hard times like these and 1578 buy them up for a mere song—assets which may be in years to come worth many millions of money. Do not sacrifice the transport system of Iraq and hand it over at a time like this to some group of European capitalists. Under the Geddes Report the railways are being sold off. What is being done with the irrigation works and the model farms? Are these assets to be sold off to the highest bidder or are they to be transferred, as similar assets are in Ireland, to the Government of King Feisal and added to the debt owed to this country by Iraq? I maintain that every one of those assets should be transferred and booked to those Governments and, if the railways cannot be carried on as a Government concern, they should be not sold but leased for a term of years, in order that the monopoly may not pass permanently into private hands. The capital spent in Iraq and the Grants-in-Aid we have to make in the years to come should both be booked against that Government.
I think the whole policy of those subsidies to foreign native princes—for that is what they amount to—can be carried too far. The right hon. Gentleman is in love with subsidies. Every time he hands over to Abdullah or the Emir Feisal or any other of those new potentates who have been set up, he says, "I am saving this money because I am saving two regiments." That is legitimate, but it can be carried too far. The buying off of the barbarian has been tried in the past. Then the right hon. Gentleman says that he is never to give these subsidies except in arrears as a result of peaceful good behavious. I wonder whether these potentates, who are always at war with each other or are at war with everybody else in Arabia—I wonder if they deserve the subsidies they get? I think it was the Roman Emperor Theodosius who bought off the Ostro-Goths and other barbarians and gave them kings, and he probably said, "Admirable! We shall save legionaries. We shall never pay them the subsidies except in arrears. When the Ostro-Goths and other barbarians are good they will get the subsidies." The downfall of the Roman Empire followed after the subsidies. The barbarians came and wanted more, and they got it, not in arrears, but in advance. That policy may be equally disastrous to us. I would like to know whether there 1579 are any subsidies which have not been paid on account of the bad behaviour of the peoples who were to receive those subsidies. We are in effect setting up in Arabia and Iraq and other places a system of native princes such as we have in India, where the native princes carry on, more or less, absolute rule under the protection of British bayonets. A certain amount of injustice may by that system be laid at our door. You may have an absolute ruler tyrannising over his people. The only means of getting rid of an absolute tyrant was that the people rose and turned against the tyrant and substituted for him a new one. That is not possible so long as these native princes are maintained by British bayonets. I do not say there is the slightest danger in any of these cases of any such tyranny being protected by us, but it is a thing the Colonial Office ought to watch. They ought to exercise some sort of control over the exercise of power by any potentate when that power is solely maintained by British bayonets or British money.
There is only one thing I would like to add about Iraq, and that is my regret that the hon. and gallant Member for Ilkeston (Major-General Seely) who, during the War, had perhaps the finest and most gallant reputation of any Member of this House—that he should to-day give the ægis of his gallantry to the theory that dropping bombs on women and children is at all comparable with shelling troops on the Western Front. Shelling troops, or rebels, or robbers is justifiable by any Government, but you require much more justification to start dropping bombs on native villages. It is true that the warning is given, but how many of the people of the village will know anything about the warning? It may be necessary. I do not say whether it is necessary or not. But when that system of policing the country is adopted, letting loose a man in an aeroplane with bombs with which he may kill many women and children—then that is not a system that can be lightly handed over. It is a system that requires the closest scrutiny and inquiry when any action has been taken.
I pass from Iraq to Palestine.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on having given to Palestine a con- 1580 stitution which, on the whole, has its merits. I am not very lavish in my praises of constitutions which have been given from that Bench lately. My right hon. Friend has given to Palestine a normal Crown Colony Constitution. It is true that in reply to an interruption from me he said that there was an elected minority on the Palestine Council, but there is besides that a certain amount of nominated elements who will represent the minority of Christians and Jews and the nominated or official element, which will be principally British, have the majority on that Council. The best Constitution that is given to a Crown Colony is always on those lines. It is on those lines for a very simple reason; that in our Colonies there is always a large minority or, perhaps I should say, a majority of uneducated people who require protection from the intelligent people with votes and power to elect members to the Legislature. In British Africa we protect by an official majority the natives and the Indians. In the same way, in Palestine, with an official majority we protect the Jew and the Christian, and when an Arab Delegation comes to this country and tells us that this Constitution is monstrously unfair, and that it is not compatible with our declaration of self-determination, I would reply that we should be only too pleased to give them full self-government as soon as it is obvious that the minority of Jews and Christians can be protected adequately, and when the feeling of hatred and hostility at the present time between the adherents of these religions in Palestine has ceased to exist.
Unfortunately there is the example we have had of that hostility, even during the past year, and so long as you have pogroms going on in Jaffa and Jerusalem, and intense religious hatred in Palestine, we cannot possibly surrender complete self-government to the people of that country. That is the attitude we are bound to take up. I might perhaps be permitted to add this: I think that religious hostility in Palestine is exaggerated and exploited for motives which are not purely religious, or even economic. You have there the French, the landlords, and the wealthier classes who used to profit under the old Turkish administration with cheap labour. You have that class extremely reluctant, naturally, to see this new immigration of the Jews into the 1581 country bringing Western ideas wholly alien to centuries-old traditions. They resent it, and use their power and tradition, naturally, to stir up feeling against the new-comers. Even in this country and in this House you find Members who are always ready to get electoral kudos or any other sort of profit if one happens to talk reasonably of foreigners, and you must expect that such a state of things would be more prevalent in a country like Palestine. You get agitation stirred up, and the upsetting of the whole condition of affairs. Still that feeling of hatred between Arab and Jew is to be found in the upper classes, and not to be found amongst the common people. I was talking to Mr. MacDonald the other day. He had just come back from Palestine. He told some of us that at Tiberias there is a Committee consisting of Arabs, Christians, and Jews who are working together. They have created there a joint school where the children of the three religions can be educated, so in spite of the fact that there is one effendi or landlord there, the relations of the three races are perfectly amicable. The contrast is to be seen in another town, Nablus, where the whole administration, I understand, is in the hands of three big Turkish effendis. Here the feeling is very bitter indeed. A Jewish lady doctor was invited to the place, and going down received a welcome from the population; but sooner or later the effendis got together and had her thrown out. It is, as I say, mostly among the richer folk that these antagonistic feelings prevail, not amongst the common people who stand to benefit enormously by the development that the Jewish people bring into Palestine. I am afraid I have been carried away by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, but it must not be thought that the Jews that are going to Palestine are Bolshevists. They are nothing of the sort. They are amongst the bitterest opponents of Bolshevism, because they have seen something of it—
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The hon. and gallant Gentleman had better be very careful what he is saying or he will split his party.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
It is the only party that is not split at present. The right hon. Gentleman seems to suggest 1582 that the Jews are Bolshevists. I want to give that a flat contradiction.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
The fact is that amongst the Jewish immigrants into Palestine you find a far larger proportion of college bred men than amongst the proletariat of any other country. There are college bred men at work making roads who are teaching their fellow workmen in the evenings. You are getting also a good many people in the villages who, though poor, have managed to get American tractors and employ the latest methods of cultivation. On the other hand, you still see the wooden plough in use, though the people who use them are learning from the Jews, and gradually civilisation is spreading all over Palestine. It is not the Oriental Jew who is bringing Western civilisation into Palestine. No, they seemed to me to be, the more I have seen of them, a very hard-headed and business set of people, these people from the West, these men who are taking with them and spreading a revived hope. They do not think they get fair play very often, but they say quite frankly: "We know your difficulties and we cannot expect to have everything our own way. We are quite prepared to wait so long as we get a fair show, and gradually we shall come all right." That, of course, is the attitude of sensible people of every country. Our duty is, naturally—I say quite frankly—to see that they are allowed to come into the country and allowed to prosper, that they are allowed to have votes in that country, and as their numbers grow to increase their voting power. Until they have sufficient voting power it is our duty to retain control over the Legislative Council so that there may be no repetition of persecutions by an elected majority, and until these newcomers have a fair chance to protect themselves. The only effective way a population can protect themselves is by the use of the vote. I am at a loss in connection with this constitution to understand why a system of indirect election has been put forward. Why has it been done? The right hon. Gentleman 1583 said he had copied a system from the Soviet system in Russia.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I understood him so. In that case it has not even Soviet value. The other matter which is of importance is that the method by which the minority are elected. I hope they will be nominated, and not elected on a mere English basis. There is only another thing in connection with Palestine. Hon. Members are apt to say: There goes £22,000,000 spent over Palestine, and the British taxpayer is paying for it, and we ought to cut the loss and drop the country. As a matter of fact, we shall probably have in the near future to increase our Army in Palestine, not to protect the people of Palestine against cutting each other's throats, but we shall be cleared out of Egypt. We have got to have some force there to protect that main artery, the Suez Canal, and not only the Canal, but the air cross-roads, the land cross-roads, and the water crossroads. If you clear out of Egypt—I will not go into that now—we are bound to use Palestine as a base for the protection of that local point. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take note of that. He is rather inclined, I think, to suppose we can go on staying in Egypt for ever, and that the Army can continue where it is, and that we need not consider any alternative. But we have to consider an alternative.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I was not talking about Egypt, but about Palestine. I have been called to order so often upon these matters that I was endeavouring to keep strictly in order and to the point.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am sorry if the hon. and gallant Gentleman was not referring to Egypt. I was under a misapprehension. I understood him to mention Egypt.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I was going to discuss the matter of the barrier between Palestine and Egypt. I am sorry it is difficult to keep away from one or the other, but if we have to garrison the Suez Canal, we must rely on Palestine in future rather than on Egypt for the centre of our military forces. If that is so, the 1584 right hon. Gentleman ought to consider the possibility of establishing our frontier, so that it might be near the Suez Canal rather than where it is at the present time. We shall have the whole of the railway up to Jerusalem to control, and we shall need to be able efficiently to protect the main highway of the Empire. Perhaps I might be permitted before I sit down to say what the Labour party's policy in connection with Palestine would be.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
Certainly. Our policy would undoubtedly be that we should as soon as possible see that Palestine is put on a self-supporting basis and that grants-in-aid that had to be made to Palestine during the coming few years would be treated as grants-in-aid to the other Crown Colonies are treated —as a debt. That debt would no doubt pile up, but ultimately as Palestine becomes self-supporting, we should, as in the case of other Crown Colonies, be able to get interest on that money and be able to treat it as a live asset. That is a policy that we should recommend. One of our first duties would be to see that the charge for the Army, in so far as it was an Army for the protection of Palestine, was reduced to a minimum, and that the place of the Army was taken by a gendarmerie which the right hon. Gentleman has started there and which has already done such useful work. We want that gendermerie, and we say that it could become equivalent to the North West Mounted Police. That is the force you want to have. You do not want a number of British regiments squatting down in Jerusalem or Jaffa, but an efficient gendarmerie under European officers doing the ordinary police work, a North West Mounted Police. If there is to be a British Army remaining in Palestine, because we know that at this point we must have an Army to protect the Suez Canal, then that is Britain's own affair and no proper charge upon a self-supporting Palestine.
§ Lord EUSTACE PERCY
I will not trouble the Committee with anything more than one point, and that is with regard to Palestine. The right hon. Gentleman said something in the course of his speech that he was not accustomed 1585 to shirk responsibility. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to take unto himself a further responsibility and to give me an assurance upon one particular point. There have been in the case of Palestine various agitations and proposals to have the whole immigration question inquired into by a judicial Committee, and that immigration should be suspended pending such an investigation. I think the Colonial Secretary will agree with me when I say that the reason why we need the gendarmerie in Palestine is the continuing uncertainty as to whether we mean to stay in Palestine, what kind of mandate we propose to have, and so forth. The only thing that can do away with that uncertainty is that British administration should be made strong enough to administer the country. We do not want a suspension of our policy in the hands of any judicial Committee. The population of Palestine have confidence in us, and I hope the Colonial Secretary will assure us that so long as he is responsible for the administration of Palestine he will remain responsible for the controlling of immigration, and not pass it on to any Committee of any sort or kind.
Mr. L. MALONE
With a certain amount of the policy of the Government, so far as the Near East is concerned, I find myself in agreement. At one time I used to be one of the foremost admirers of the Colonial Secretary, and even during the War I admired his very brilliant conceptions of Gallipoli and Antwerp which, owing to a thing over which he had no control, were not so successful as they might have been. Since then I think the right hon. Gentleman has rather gone off the rails, and I am afraid he has got into the hands of bad interests. In the East the Colonial Secretary has an opportunity to make a great reputation with a large section of the people. In the East the right hon. Gentleman has taken over a great many legacies from the War. During the War I spent 12 or 14 months in Arabia, Palestine and Abyssinia, and I saw some of the muddles the Government got us into in those countries. Take the case of the Arab bureau and our dealings with the Sheik of Mecca in regard to subsidies. In this matter there was rivalry between the Secretary of State for India and the Arab bureau in Cairo. The point on which I should like a reply is with reference to the 1586 legacies of the India Office in regard to the payment of yearly subsidies to these Arabs. Are they to be paid in perpetuity? How long are we to pay these legacies to the native princes in the East, and what return can we expect to get in this country, either nationally or individually.
Is any individual in this country getting any benefit in return for the money being spent there or is it simply being spent as an honourable return to uphold the pledges of this nation in the past? If it is merely a question of national honour we are under just as great obligations to save the starving people of Russia. What is really the keynote of all the troubles in Arabia to-day? What is the remedy for the unrest and strife and bickerings which the Colonial Secretary finds himself face to face with to-day? The real thing he has to face is that a settlement has to be made with Mustapha Kemal Pasha in Angora, and a Treaty has to be signed with him. That is the pill which we have to swallow. It is not a question of whether we have to swallow it or not, but as to how bitter that pill is going to be. I suggest that the Colonial Secretary should make use of the opportunity of the visit to this country of Yussef Pasha—
All I wish to say on this point is that peace with Turkey would bring about peace and prosperity in Europe and elsewhere. I should like to see some arrangement made on these lines. Would it be possible for Mustapha Kemal Pasha to accept office as Prime Minister under the Sovereign? We shall never get peace in Iraq so long as we continue negotiating with a shadow Sultan at Constantinople. The point upon which I wish to congratulate the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Minister of Air is the development which the Air Service has undergone in the East. I only say this on this particular Estimate, and I think I am entitled to talk about the air because the Colonial Secretary himself mentioned it in his opening speech. I think a great deal more might be done with the Air Service in this part of the world- The railway to Bagdad and Constantinople will not be completed for another five or six 1587 years, because there is still a great gap of between 130 and 140 miles to be completed in addition to the renovation of a number of bridges which were destroyed during and since the War.
I think a great deal more might be done with the Air Service out there. Flying there is good practice for our airmen and it is a good thing for the progress of civil aviation in this country. No money spent on the Air Service there is wasted. Even if there is no war for the next 20 years the airmen carrying out commercial flying in those parts will reflect on the prosperity of this country. I think the Colonial Secretary will be well advised to approach his colleague the Postmaster-General and try and get a definite contract for the carrying of mails to Bagdad. The air post from London to Bagdad takes something like nine days as compared with five weeks by the sea route. If the right hon. Gentleman exerts pressure on the Postmaster-General I think the Government can put commercial flying on very nearly a paying basis within the next two or three years. It might also be possible in the not very far distant future to extend flying as far as India. I do not want to say anything more about the Air Service in the East to-night, because we shall have opportunities of developing this question at greater length on the Air Estimates the week after next. I think it is rather singular that the air work in the East has had to be developed by the military side of the Air Ministry and by the Chief of the Air Staff and not by the Controller of Civil Aviation.
The point upon which I mainly want to speak to-night is the question of Palestine. I feel that the Palestine question is the most important section of the Colonial Secretary's work in the East, and it is there that he may look for the most lasting results of his work. It is in Palestine that the right hon. Gentleman can look for a place to bury some of his corpses of past catastrophies. We have been flooded during the past few months by propaganda pamphlets describing two sides of the Palestine question, and I think it is only right in this place to make a little comment on those pamphlets. I hope the Colonial Secretary when he comes to reply will give us a more definite assurance as to 1588 the Government's policy in Palestine. In his opening remarks to-day the Colonial Secretary did little more than slur over the attitude of his Office and of the Government towards the Palestine question.
I think the people ought to understand what this Arab Delegation in London really means. We ought to understand who these people who are holding meetings in London really represent. I should like hon. Members and the public not to treat this Arab Delegation too seriously. What is this Delegation which is now staying at the Hotel Cecil? I have it on very good authority that the Delegation now at the Hotel Cecil does not represent the best Moslem opinion in Palestine. Not only the two or three Moslem societies in the country, but all the important Arabs of any standing decline to associate themselves with the activities of the Arab Delegation now in London. I have read very carefully their statements and their tracts and the accounts of the meetings which they have held, and I find that they are absolutely unsupported by either the official reports of the High Commissioner of Palestine or by the facts as we know them. I want to deal with one or two of them.
It is stated by the Arabs that the Balfour Declaration of November, 1917, absolutely contravenes all the promises made to the Arabs during the War. What do we find? The only pledge mentioned is the pledge given by Sir Henry Mac-Mahon in 1915—and that was never given to the Arabs, it was only given to the Sherif of Mecca. During the recent Conferences in Paris, the Balfour Declaration received the blessing of King Feisal and the Sherif of Mecca. The Arab report says that, as far as the Palestine Service is concerned, every Department is swamped with Jews. That is a gross travesty of the facts, for if one turns to the Interim Report of the High Commissioner it will be seen that in the Senior Service, out of a total of 360, only 50 are Jews; while in the Junior Service, out of 2,130, only 566 are Jews. If there is any ground for legitimate criticism of our administrative machine in Palestine, that it is not that there are too many Jews, but that with regard to the remainder—the Christians and the Moslems—there are not enough Moslems. I do not know why. It may be it is difficult to find sufficient Moslems 1589 with administrative ability. But what are the Government of Palestine doing to produce more Moslems who are fitted to take their part in the Government of the country?
Again, the pamphlet says that a tide of Jewish immigration is pouring into Palestine. There are in Palestine to-day nearly 70,000 Jews, but of this number we must remember more than 35,000 take no part in its political life. They are confined in Jerusalem. Of the remainder, 20,000 are employed on public works and just over 15,000 are colonists doing really good productive work in farming, afforestation and other industries. The Arab delegations in their statement refer to a little pamphlet published in this country called the "Jewish Peril." I do not think, however, that those who voice the aspirations of the Arabs in this country do their case any good by referring to this pamphlet, nor do they do any good to their cause by associating themselves, as they do in all their meetings at the Hyde Park Hotel, with professional anti-Semites in this country and those who are loudest in their declamations in the columns of the "Morning Post" and elsewhere against any work by any person of the Jewish faith. It is a rather curious travesty that these anti-Semites are so loud in decrying the keeping of a Jewish minority in Palestine by means of British bayonets, seeing that they are exactly the persons who in this House a few weeks ago were urging that we should keep a British minority in India with British bayonets. Evidently the principles which they apply to India they are not prepared to apply to Palestine.
I do not want to criticise the Arab point of view. But what do they really want? What do the Arab delegations wish to do? Do they want us to abrogate the Balfour declaration? What is their solution for the millions of Jewish people who are to be found in the ghettoes throughout Europe? There is no constructive suggestions in any of their statements, so far as I have seen. I cannot pass from criticising the Arabs without giving a word of criticism to the other side. There are Zionists who are over-ardent, but there is not a single trace of evidence in any statement by the extreme Zionists that the administration of Palestine is not doing justice to 1590 the Arabs. What I look upon as the most hopeful sign in Palestine is the scheme for the development of the waters of the Jordan and for the development of electrification and other schemes at Jaffa and elsewhere. This is the first really big constructive scheme which the Zionist supporters—I do not mean the official Zionist organisations—have tried to put into operation in Palestine, and I earnestly hope that the Secretary of State will do everything in his power to help the scheme forward. Further, I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman, or whoever may reply on this Debate, for more definite assurances as to the Government policy in regard to Palestine. For a great many generations Palestine has been looked upon as the lodestar of Jewish idealism, and it would be interesting to see the Hebrews once more making their characteristic contribution to the common stock. It would be a terrible blow if we went back one jot or one tittle from the declaration which Sir Arthur Balfour gave us in November, 1917.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE-BRABAZON
I look upon the Secretary of State as a modern Abraham, who, instead of promising us a land flowing with milk and honey, promises us a land of oil and money. What, however, I want to know is how the ordinary British taxpayer is, to use a vulgarism, going to "trouser" the money. Whatever we produce here, even if the country flows with oil and if every particle of the land is producing wheat, surely it is going to the highest bidder, and this country is not likely to reap any benefit except from the point of view of having improved yet another country. Our mandate wants clearing up. How long are we to remain in this country? Is it ever going to be an asset rather than a liability? Cannot we see a vision 20 years ahead where we are still in the country teaching the Arabs trigonometry and fining them for telling fortunes? It will not make them any better; it will make us a good deal poorer. Can the Secretary of State tell how long we are committed to this policy, and how we are going to cash our already big expenditure? Is the policy of the Government the most efficient machinery for doing what we have undertaken? I congratulate the Secretary of State on his imagination in utilising the Air Force as policemen in this country. This is a red-letter day in the military history of 1591 the world, because for the first time we see this new young Air Force taking charge of a big country with the older service ancillary to it. The Air Force during the War worked practically entirely for the Army. In this particular scheme the Army has to co-operate with the Air Force, and the success of the venture now being tried can be made or marred by the Army. I hope it will do its best to help the venture in every way.
§ Major GLYN
I have listened with very great satisfaction to the speech of the Secretary of State in regard to the policy he is carrying through. If I may be critical, I would say there is one point which the Committtee should not pass over. Although there have been difficulties in the administration of Mesopotamia, tremendous credit is due to those Arabs who consented to come forward and take part in the Government. Feisal has a very difficult task, and some of the Arabs associated with him were doubtful at first whether their lives would not be endangered if they co-operated with him. They have, however, done so, and they have proved themselves worthy of the experiment which has been made. It would be as well if all of us could realise that if we withdrew our forces now those Arabs who helped us would be in very great jeopardy. We do not want, I am sure, to hold Mesopotamia by a large force of troops. Most of us want to see the troops removed. Personally I hope the Secretary of State will extend the idea of the gendarmerie in Mesopotamia, and I trust he will give special attention to the claims of the 3,000 officers of the British Army who are very soon, I fear, to be thrown on the streets, and who are men eminently suited to relieve the British and Indian troops and to assist in training the Arab levies. If that is done in co-operation with the Air Force there, a great deal may be accomplished to justify the hopes of those of my hon Friends who think that by the air you can do everything. This is not perhaps the best occasion on which to discuss the Air Force, but I would like some information as to what is going to happen. If you disagree with the policy of dropping bombs on women and children, a policy which I strongly deprecate, you might use your aeroplanes to secure early in- 1592 formation, and thus place our forces in a position to put down any trouble at its start.
§ Major-General SEELY
Why should it be assumed that aeroplanes will drop bombs or shells on women and children? It has been suggested that I made some such statement. I never said anything of the sort. An aeroplane need not drop either bombs or shells on women and children.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Major GLYN
I was unaware of what the right hon. Gentleman had said, but I think it does not alter the point that the information must be followed up by action. What that action is going to be, remains to be proved, but as I say, it is not fair, before investigation, to discuss the matter. I believe the real benefit of the Air Force to Iraq at the present moment has been to help political officers to keep in touch with people in different parts and to bring the whole of the vast territories into constant communication with headquarters, and through them, you have distributed the actual physical association of those who are in charge at headquarters with the great districts they administer.
I would like to ask the Under-Secretary a special question. The education of the Arabs was started off by a very elaborate scheme with which the name of Miss Gertrude Bell will always be most honourably associated. Those who have the honour of the lady's acquaintance realise what a tremendous enthusiasm she has, and they will know her great power among the Arab people. They would, I feel sure, do everything possible to assist her in her great work. To-night it is not seemly or suitable to discuss anything about the settlement with Turkey, but I think I should be in order in saying that those who work for the good of the Arabs, and those who wish to see British prestige held high, will do well to follow as far as possible the road of those devoted people who have gone out to help to educate them, and prove by actual fact what British association with any people who are coming out of darkness into light can do, and then we need not be afraid of what the future holds. The whole of Islam at the moment is on the move, and it is difficult for Western people to see in what direction the movement is going.
1593 But there is a force which is counteracting the work which has been done by Miss Bell and others—a force which, I think, is rather pernicious. There is established at Fez a large college who send out missionaries into different parts of the Mahommedan world, and these men have done a great deal to stir up feeling and produce unrest. It is as well to realise that people whose education is not yet perfect can be led away by agitators more easily than those who can balance opinion as the result of having the advantage of a full education, and I hope the policy will be pursued in Iraq of not relying on force, but doing everything to disseminate by education that far better British characteristic, which is shown by the fact that one British official with a stick can go anywhere, while some other foreign emissaries, although armed, cannot penetrate without the risk of losing their lives. If we can concentrate troops in areas where they are of real use for Imperial communication, and develop the system of gendarmerie, and establish that machinery to give employment to the ex-officers and non-commissioned officers who served the country well, and who, through no fault of their own, will be thrown on to a very bad labour market to get other employment, I am sure the Secretary of State, with his intimate knowledge, is an ideal man to consider the just claims of these men.
§ Lieut. - Colonel FREMANTLE
The Secretary of State has been likened to the patriarch Abraham, and that reminds me that when I had sanitary charge of the base in Iraq I once sent out a young officer with a complete disinfecting equipment to Ur of the Chaldees, the former seat of that patriarch, to disinfect about a thousand coolies. I wanted to ask this point, which, perhaps, the Colonial Secretary will deal with in his reply. People think of the protection of Iraq and of its political importance, but do not ever seem sufficiently to realise how essentially important it is as the health gateway between Asia and Europe. Iraq is one of the essential gateways which has admitted, or not admitted, disease from Asia into Europe. Great waves of epidemics have come through or been stopped there. There have been three gateways for the spread of infection. One we hold the key of, through the Red Sea 1594 and the Suez Canal; the other is viâ the Persian Gulf through Basra; and the third is the caravan route through Persia to Bagdad. Owing to a good sanitary cordon and the quarantine regulations set up during the War, we kept an effectual cheek on both these remaining routes, as well as the original one, and I should like to ask whether, in Iraq, that essential factor is likely to be maintained in the new arrangement under the Arab Government now set in force? I will give a reason why this is essential, that is the travelling to the great Shiah shrines of Kerbela and Negif in Iraq, which are the Mecca of all Shiah Mussulmen. There is a very large traffic in corpses coming through from Persia to be buried in these shrines in Iraq. Corpses are brought down from all parts of the country and this makes it additionally necessary for sanitary arrangements and proper precautions.
The sanitary organisation is in a very difficult position at the present time. As always happens when this country begins to cut expenses, the first thing it will cut down is what they consider to be an ancillary or accessory service, and, above all, those on which they see no result. We ought to be beyond that. At the present time I should hope that we may feel ourselves justified in maintaining these services that are an essential protection from the epidemics of Asia. In the second place, there are the civil health services for the immediate needs of the population. We have established quietly a very large influence through the civil medical service, which was originally the military medical service, throughout the country. We are still keeping up a certain amount of steady work that is enormously valued in the different stations throughout Iraq. What is more, we keep them up not only for the sake of the inhabitants, but we have establishments for the Europeans. That is an essential service. If we are to keep the country with the help of European officers, we must provide for them and their families to have a proper medical service, and that is a difficult question where you are diminishing your services. You have a very long line of communication from Bagdad to Basra and you have these little knots of Europeans for whom and for whose families—it is impossible to divorce them from family life year after year—you must keep a proper medical service. I ask for 1595 some kind of assurance that sympathy will be given to the medical staff—I know them personally and I know their magnificent service since the Armistice—in maintaining and developing the medical services, for the sake not only of the European, but still more, for the civilising purpose which is the main purpose of our mandate. The main reason for our remaining in the country seems to be, by a civilising influence, to keep the peace and hold it. If so, there is no way of doing it so effectively as by keeping up and developing your medical service for the sake of the natives.
I do not wish to speak at any length on the general subject, though I think I could do so quite as effectively as many who spoke without local knowledge. But the following information should, in justice, be given in this kind of Debate. It has not yet been mentioned and it expresses a very sound opinion from a friend who writes from Bagdad:With an Arab Government things have changed very materially. The Shereefian influence of (certain officials) has neither drowned nor tried to drown the real good work which A. T. Wilson put in and on the substructure of which we now rest, and all that is at present going on is made possible. People forget this, and I hate to hear A. T. Wilson run down even though he did go a bit fast.Heaven only knows what our country owes that man! He was cruelly libelled in the Debate a year ago. I tried to get an opportunity of saying something to the contrary, but time only can show what his influence and what his constructive organisation has done. I hope that now, in an independent capacity, he may be able to assist very materially in the development of that country.
I want to refer to one other question —the policy of scuttle. That policy of scuttle has been preached to the readers of newspapers in this country and throughout the Empire quite recently, by those who seem to have a knowledge, but who, as a matter of fact, have hardly any immediate knowledge at all of the circumstances. I hope that that policy of scuttle has now been ended by the action of the right hon. Gentleman. He did it by an extraordinary combination of policy. There is no doubt that there was a disgraceful amount of waste under the old régime. Some of us who know have heard the parody that went round the 1596 headquarters at Bagdad, while the country was still under our occupation, during the earlier régime:Half a lakh, half a lakh, half a lakh squandered;Up to the Persian hills, G.H.Q. wandered;and the rest of it. There was a great deal of real waste of Government money, and the cost was tremendous. The question was, how to get round that, and yet at the same time carry out what we felt it to be our duty to carry out, having undertaken the Mandate. I hope it will be remembered that a very large number of men from this country fought, and a very large number died, in that country and for that country, and that it has an enormous interest for those who came to know the Arab, to understand him and to admire him, and who saw the possibilities of the future. We felt that a policy of scuttle was ignoble, and we felt that, whatever the future might be—and we believed that there were possibilities, as has been suggested, in connection with oil and so on in Iraq—whatever the future might be, it was our duty and our wish to stay there. That could only be accomplished by this proposal of the Secretary of State, which was cried down and laughed at right and left as being impossible, as being only a half measure, which was worse than none. Having seen a good deal of the work of the Air Force during the War in Iraq, although I myself felt that it was doubtful, I felt that the risk was one which should be taken, and where others cried it down I stood up for it, although I had no qualification so to do except my own opinion. I am glad now to see that it has justified itself, and I hope it will continue to do so. It was a very bold decision on the part of the Secretary of State.
Do not let us be blind to the future. The right hon. Gentleman has drawn for us extraordinary pictures about the prosperity of the country at the present moment, but those pictures are not borne out by the intimate information that I get from Iraq. It is quite true that the people on the spot, naturally, perhaps, are most alive to the dangers, and are least able to see through the wood to the trees inside, but we must be prepared for the possible breakdown of this Arab dominion. What are we going to do in that case? I hope the result of this discussion, and of the three years 1597 of thought which the country has gone through, will convince us that, if Feisal's rule does break down—which God forbid —we must be prepared still to carry out our Mandate. Those of us who have been out there, and had eyes to see what the ravages of the Turkish Government had effected for many years, cannot imagine the country being allowed to go back to that, and we feel that we cannot possibly let it go back; but, unless we are prepared to rule it in case the present rule should break down, we must give it back to Turkey. I have evidence that Arabs of high standing out there say to the British, "We like you; we want to have your rule. You rule well. But if you will not rule, we do not want the Arab. The Arab cannot rule. We know the Arab chiefs. If you will not rule, give us back the Turk. We know and understand him, and a strong rule, even if bad, is much better than no rule at all." That is the cry that comes from all Oriental lands, and it is voiced particularly in a letter to me from the Yemen. I have heard no mention of the Yemen to-night, and I should like to know what is the position there at the present time, and what it is going to be. Are we going to give that also over to Arab rule, or are we still going to keep a large force there? Are we prepared to govern it ourselves, or is it to be left with practically no government at all?
Having supported, as far as I can, the policy of the Secretary of State, I do hope that he will drop this silly pretence of democracy of which he has made so much in the Debate. It is absolutely absurd and ridiculous to anyone who has been in personal contact with the Oriental, and especially the Oriental who is untrained in Western matters, as is the case among the Arabs, to imagine for a minute that they can adopt any semblance of democratic organisation. The account that the Secretary of State gave us of the election of Emir Feisal as king is more absurd than anything I could imagine ever to have been stated in this Chamber. Everyone knows it to be a ridiculous farce. Why was it adopted originally, and why is it again repeated now? Is it for the purpose of putting us right in the eyes of the world, in accordance with the ideas of self-determination that were thrown about so airily by big statesmen who did not understand the East. Is it to put us right 1598 with our Colonial cousins, or to put us right with democratic people in our own country? I hope that among these last there are some who study these things, and that they will join in recognising the absurdity of talking about democratic government among an Oriental people who are illiterate, and of whom I do not suppose one in a thousand would know what they were voting about when they were asked to vote.
Why keep up this humbug? We know that we, England, for better or worse, believe in Western civilization as better than Eastern. I have lived and worked long enough in Eastern civilization to know that there is another side to that question from the Oriental point of view, but, if we believe in it, when we take charge of a country, we know what is best for the people according to our view. What is best for them is the thing they will like best when they understand it; but to imagine that they can understand it in advance, if we thrust it upon them, is absurd, and to ask their opinion, even if they could give it, is absurd. We believe that the right thing was that Emir Feisal should reign in Iraq. I believe myself that the Secretary was right in making that arrangement, however it was done; but I say that the reason for it is that we knew and the natives on the spot could not understand. We arranged it, and we hope it is for the best, but for God's sake let us drop that sham of democratic government of Orientals by themselves.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I hope that this Debate will have, to some extent, instructed the general mass of the people of this country on these two difficult subjects, Iraq and Palestine. In Iraq, as I understand the matter, we find ourselves for the simple reason that it was part of the struggle of the War. We broke up the Turkish Government there, who were our enemies, having joined with the Germans, and we were assisted in doing that by a great many native Arabs. When the War was over it would not have been right or fair had we left the country without a Government. Certainly there was a great deal of extravagance. The Indian Government, when they thought they were spending the money of the home Government, spent it with considerable liberality. We have established a Government there, 1599 and it is probably right that we should continue to see that it functions, because even Turkish government is better than none at all. I hope we shall get, some day, some further reward beyond the mere reward of a good conscience. Therefore, I do not think the expenditure in Iraq can be reasonably found fault with.
When, however, we come to the question of Palestine, I must say that that is a great mystery to the average Briton, especially if he is unemployed and sees good money going for the benefit of people who he always thought knew far more about money than he did. I listened with refreshing joy to the hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) the new exponent of democracy. It is a complete mystery to me how such doctrines could be expressed by him. He seemed to think it was our duty to keep the natives of Palestine down until a sufficient number of other immigrants have got in to vote them down. A more extraordinary democratic doctrine I have never heard in my life, and that is the last Bench I should have expected to hear it from. We have seen the results of making settlements of aliens in other countries. We have seen the result of introducing different populations. It is not desirable. They never fuse properly.
I do not feel that this country is bound by the Balfour Declaration at all. It is a mere pious expression of a wish which has been interpreted as if it was a contract. We know perfectly well that it had no right to be done in this particular way. It may cause as much trouble as the Pope's gift in the twelfth century of Ireland to England. I always ask the Catholics of Ireland to recollect that if they got into a mess by being handed over they have the Pope to thank for it, and now here is very much the same position in Palestine, except that the Balfour Declaration is being made to take the place of the Pope, and is interpreted as if it was handing over what is de facto the home of three-quarters of a million of Arabs to a considerable number of Jews. No doubt the Jews were once in Palestine, but that was a long, long while ago. The Romans were there for hundreds of years. The Romans were once in Britain. The only place they could not get into was 1600 Scotland. We drove them out, and they seem to have engaged in an experiment in building to keep us from coming down upon them, which was greater even than this Government has done in building houses. They built a wall, traces of which are still to be found along the border. We have no occasion to go into this ancient history, which gives no right whatever to what is the de facto home of the Arabs. There is no reason why Jews should not emigrate there if they want to, but there should not be any of this almost forced immigration. Those of us who know the history of the north-east corner of Ireland know that there was always there a different race from the rest of the country. We are told it was a settlement put in by James I and Cromwell.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Sir E. Cornwall)
This ancient history must not be gone into at too great length on a Supplementary Estimate.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I allowed the hon. Member to use it up to a point, but I rule now that he is using it at too great length, and he must not go any further.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I was dealing at the beginning with the twelfth century. I have now proceeded down the corridors of history five or six centuries further. I was dealing with Henry II. That was in the twelfth century. If my recollection was right, James I was many years after. He was a Scotch King said to be the son of Mary Queen of Scots.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I am surprised that the hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme wants to repeat the history which he so bitterly deplores in the adjacent island. He is simply making a repetition of it. Why cannot we leave the Arabs to deal with this question themselves? If they want these gentlemen they can emigrate into their country and they will be welcome. If they do not want them, why should we, who are so determined to give the race just across the Irish Channel self-determination, or self-extermination, 1601 proceed to operate the principle that we have just thrown overboard? The whole thing is perfectly absurd. Why not Egypt? Why are we not to keep Egypt, where the result of British domination has been to make it blossom like a rose and prosper? Why are we keeping the protection of the Suez Canal for Palestine? That is where the waters of Jordan are, but it is a considerable distance from the Suez Canal. I had the pleasure of meeting this Arab deputation, and I was very favourably impressed. They may belong to what the hon. and gallant Gentleman would call the upper classes. Of course that, to a leader of the Labour party, who always works to raise class distinctions, is sufficient to turn them down. But after all, are not the so-called upper classes of the Arabs the educated classes? I am surprised at the doctrine from the Labour Benches that the so-called educated classes must be more ignorant than the uneducated classes. The Arabs put it plainly. They said, "We do not want them. A great many of them are very undesirable Russian Jews with Bolshevist tendencies, and we are an ordinary law-abiding people." The history of the Jewish race is a brilliant one. The Lord has given them every gift in the world except popularity. They are more an intellectual people than a people who are in the habit of using their hands and perspiring at their labour. They are more inclined to be traders, administrators, lawyers and artists. I cannot follow why the British should be mixed up in this question of providing a national home for them. An hon. Member suggests it might be made a home for ex-Ministers of the Crown.
Why should we spend a single penny of British money or have a single Scottish regiment in Palestine for a purpose of this kind? It is one which I, being only an unsophisticated Scotsman, cannot understand at all, and I do not think we are bound by the Balfour Declaration. We have the Arabs there, and if those I saw in the Arab deputation are all good samples of the Arab people, all I can say is that they look certainly just as fit to govern as the Labour party or the Tory party. They were a very fine body of men and they spoke with culture, eloquence, and very good reasoning and historical knowledge. We have driven the Turk out of the place because his rule there was cruel, and we left 750,000 1602 industrious people, who stood by us during the War, and who fought for us, and I think we ought to leave them to deal with things. We drove out the Turk for them, and they do not want him back. Why should we hand the place over to another people who are aliens? Although they can say that their ancestors were there, it is hundreds of years ago, and they left the place because they could not hold on. Why they should be brought back by the British is a thing that a great many people cannot understand. As far as I have been able to gather, we have had no satisfactory or reasonable explanation given in this House.
While we cannot do the immediate scuttle that has been suggested, I do say that we ought to make it our business to leave the Arab people there to govern the country on the democratic principle of allowing the majority to rule. If we do that, things will settle down, and I feel sure that the majority of the Arab people will give the Jews just as much fair play as they would give to any other people; we do not need to anticipate any oppression. It is a serious thing for any people to have a body of foreigners forced on them by artificial means. That is bound to cause irritation and great difficulty in Government. The modus operandi suggested by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) is a violation of the elementary principles of self-government, of which this House has seen a most astonishing example in the last week. Why we should do these things is entirely beyond me, and beyond most of the citizens of this country.
§ Mr. WISE
I should like to ask one question in regard to Item J2 "Loss by exchange on funds supplied by India." The details state:This represents the estimated amount of loss through depreciation of the value of the rupee in supplying Mesopotamia with rupee currency during the period to 31st March, 1921.How is it that this is only an Estimate although it is a year ago? Who advises the Treasury or the Department on the exchange position in connection with this Supplementary Estimate of £891,000?
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Mr. Edward Wood)
I am afraid that I am not in a position to 1603 give my hon. Friend, off hand, a full answer to the point he has made. One of the reasons why the account is brought into this Supplementary Estimate is that there has been a considerable delay in obtaining full information, or as full information as we have now got in regard to those rather complicated currency points. That explains why at this moment it is only an Estimate. My hon. Friend may, however, take it that the Estimate will not prove to be very far from the actual sum.
§ Mr. WOOD
Up to 31st March last year, but my hon. Friend must bear in mind that these matters involve calculations in sums of values that shift almost week by week and month by month. The task of making up the books with these calculations is not easy, and the hon. Member must be prepared to allow a reasonable period of time for the claims to be finally adjusted. In regard to these currency matters, my right hon. Friend acts on the advice of his financial advisers here, who are always able to consult the experts of the Treasury and he works in these matters in conjunction with the financial experts of the India Office, and the financial advisers of the local administration. Therefore, my hon. Friend will see that there are a good many persons involved. It is, at least, a three-cornered transaction, and that is the explanation why a certain amount of delay is inevitable. If my hon. Friend wishes to pursue the subject further I shall be glad to give him any information that I can obtain, when I have had an opportunity to consult those who actually deal with the figures. I have only tried to answer him in general outline.
I want to point out that this Iraq Vote, and the transference of command to the Air Ministry, really involves the whole question of an independent Air Ministry, and inasmuch as we have heard from various quarters that an attack is to be made upon the independence and integrity of the Air Ministry, one notes that these attacks have not been developed to-day. If we accept this arrangement in Iraq, it is quite clear that it will be too late later on to attack the independence of the Air Ministry, and we, who 1604 believe that the interests of the country and of economy are best served by the existence of an independent Air Force, are right in assuming that the failure of the opponents to attack this big scheme to-day, means that the opponents of that separate and independent Air Force regard their case as hopeless and do not intend to press it to the full extent. It is very important to state that, having regard to the controversy that will develop in the course of the next 10 days.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolution to be reported To-morrow.
§ Committee to sit again To-morrow.