HC Deb 07 March 1923 vol 161 cc623-7

That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £813,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will cone in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1923, for sundry Middle Eastern Services under His Majesty's Secretary of State for the Colonies, including certain Grants-in-Aid.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."


It will be asking too much of the House on the Report stage of this Vote to pass it in the short period which now intervenes before the Resolution at 8.15. The conditions under which the discussion took place on the Committee stage of the Vote will be fresh in the minds of hon. Members. We were then advised by the Government that it was very inexpedient to deal with certain aspects of this Vote on account of the critical state of the negotiations going on in the capital of the Turkish Nationalists, Angora. It was represented that net that time the position was one of extreme delicacy, and in that delicate position, not only the votes in this House, but also the speeches of hon. Members, might have a considerable effect on the decision taken. It seems to me, however, from the reports which are to hand in the daily Press, that either the discussions at Angora have been concluded, or are very near conclusion: and, therefore, to take the Report stage of this Resolution purely as a formal Measure is scarcely to the point. We should have a real opportunity of debate, and to take a decision with free and unfettered hands, so that we may let the Government know whether the policies involved in these Votes and included in this Resolution should or should not be continued.

There are a number of things which require investigation, and upon which the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite, the Under-Secretary for the Colonies, did not enlighten the House during the Committee stage. There are many matters in connection with the railways upon which he showed a very discreet reticence. For example, in dealing with the very large Supplementary Estimate for the railway, he thought to minimise the charge which this area involved for the future to this country. I understand that the whole question of liability, in respect of the railways, was discussed with expert assistance at the celebrated Cairo Conference, at which Mr. Winston Churchill cut such a dashing figure as a kind of modern emperor of the Middle East. From such information as has come into my possession, I understand that a very large sum was estimated as the amount which would be necessary for reconditioning these railways, and the bother is, that this House, from time to time, is only troubled with comparatively small Votes. The original Vote of the present year was only a half of what it has actually cost. We shall probably find again, when the Estimates for the railways of Iraq are presented next year, that the moderate sum is once more placed before the House. The hon. and gallant Gentleman shakes his head. Do I understand it will not be moderate?

The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Mr. Ormsby-Gore)

There will not be one at all.


In nearly every case anticipations have not been fulfilled. Last year when a moderate Estimate was made we were disappointed to find that it actually came to double for the purposes required. Probably about this time next year we shall have an Estimate which will be the equivalent of a new service. It is of importance that we should have an opportunity of dealing with this Supplementary Estimate, and that the House should signify clearly that it intends to have no more of this expenditure, that it is going to put an end to it, and that it is not only going to put an end to it in regard to the railways, but in regard to the military expenditure for the purposes of the whole of that area. I mention that the railways was one of the main considerations discussed at the Cairo Conference. The information which I have received in regard to the Estimates then made as to the liability in respect of the railways was that these would take about £6,000,000 to recondition. So far as I can ascertain no amount approximating to that has yet been granted on our Estimates. I therefore distrust the optimistic predictions with which the hon. and gallant Gentleman sought to beguile the Committee.

I have read similar optimistic predictions by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who have at one time or another spoken in regard to the Middle East. I remember an optimistic prediction by the late Prime Minister and by the late Secretary of State for the Colonies, and now the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Mr. Ormsby-Gore) is entering very worthily into that lineal succession. Time will prove whether the hon. and gallant Gentleman will attain to an equal reputation for accuracy to that of any of his illustrious predecessors. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am sorry that hon. Members should seek to spurn the very high distinction I am offering to the hon. and gallant Gentleman. In these days when Cabinet Ministers are falling, and offices are becoming vacant, I should have thought a testimonial of this character would have been of the utmost value for the purpose of a Front Bench which is as barren of imagination as the one we see before us. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I hope I have said nothing to which hon. Members can take exception. I have endeavoured to clothe, no doubt inadequately, the compliment I was uttering in the only language I was able to command. However, a more serious issue, and far more serious than the raillways, is the charge in regard to defence. It was in this regard that we were asked not to speak at all in the course of the Committee Debate. Consequently, since the Committee Debate has come to an end and the negotiations at Angora are concluded—

HON. MEMBERS: "Yes," and "No!"

Captain O'GRADY

The Turks have turned it down.


I will accept my hon. and gallant Friend's words "terminated," or "turned down," the proposals. The reason, then, for refusing or declining to deal with policy no longer holds goods. Those of us who have opposed the whole Mesopotamian adventure have opposed it not only on the ground of expense, but on the ground that it was strategically weakening the Empire, that it was strategically weakening our posi- tion in the Near and Middle East for the purpose of finally settling a peace with Turkey. There is no doubt, if anyone examines the situation as it arose in the months of September and October last, that one of the factors which most seriously affected our action, and which to the greatest extent improved the position of the Turks for the purpose of negotiation, was the fact that we were in Mosul and the position of our troops in Constantinople. It was not the naval position in the Straits or the Sea of Marmora that rendered it difficult for us to bring the Turks to a reasonable frame of mind.

It being a Quarter-past Eight of tilt Clock, further Proceeding was postponed without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order N o. 4.