HL Deb 21 February 1922 vol 49 cc159-62

LORD RAGLAN rose to ask His Majesty's Government if they can give any information as to their policy with regard to Trans-Jordania. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in August, 1920, the High Commissioner of Palestine promised to Trans-Jordania local autonomy with British assistance. In pursuance of that promise, which was afterwards broken, political officers, of whom I was one, were afterwards sent there. Our position without troops was very difficult, but things were better then than they have become since. Soon after the Emir Abdullah appeared on the scene. He left the Hejaz swearing to drive the British and French out of Syria, and arrived at Maan on the confines of Syria with about 200 men and was there joined by 300 more malcontents and adventurers. He announced that he was about to make a dash for Damascus and we were instructed to urge our people to have nothing to do with him. Those who listened to us regretted it. The Government had no policy and took no action.

Presently Abdullah moved on to Amman and the Government then started to try to find a formula. A formula was found of the usual type. We made Abdullah a present of Trans-Jordania, without asking the inhabitants, and £5,000 a month pocket money and undertook to pay for a force of gendarmerie. He undertook not to attack the French, a thing which he never had the slightest intention of doing.

At once criminals and agitators flocked to him from all parts and were provided for at the expense of the unfortunate inhabitants, to whom they never ceased to preach hatred of this country. I have myself heard Abdullah with his £5,000 in his pocket hold up Sinn Fein as an example to the Arabs of Palestine. The administration is now in a state of chaos. Justice and public security are non-existent. Murders and highway robberies are of daily occurrence. The gendarmerie cannot prove effective as there is no proper administrative authority for them to support. The same applies to our armoured cars and aeroplanes. The inhabitants are disgusted with Abdullah and they are still more disgusted with the British Government which has forced him upon them.

They are longing for the return of the Turks, whose public buildings, now falling into ruins, stand as monuments of past prosperity. I know Abdullah well and I can assure your Lordships that he, his father the King of the Hejaz, and his brother the King of Iraq are unfitted for the position in which we have placed them and are maintaining them at vast expense against the wishes of the inhabitants.


My Lords, I did not intend to say anything until I heard the concluding words of Lord Raglan in which, in his comprehensive survey of the Trans-Jordanian area, he said the King of Iraq was quite unfitted to be ruler. I know him very well—perhaps as well as Lord Raglan knows Abdullah; and I can vouch for the fact that I think he is the man for a most difficult position. The King of Iraq is absolutely fitted to govern the country. The noble Lord speaks with special knowledge as to the condition of Trans-Jordania, but before the noble Duke replies I should like to ask, if things are in such a frightful condition in Trans-Jordania, why we allow such a condition of things, as I believe we found £180,000 for the administration of the district and therefore there must be something very wrong indeed if for that sum of money we have not been able to produce better results than those described.


My Lords, the primary consideration governing the policy of His Majesty's Government in Trans-Jordania is that of security. The territory known as Trans-Jordania marches both with Syria under French Mandate and with Palestine west of the Jordan. In time past raids from Trans-Jordania into Syria and into Palestine were not infrequent. Obviously this state of affairs had to he put an end to; its continuance would have been a constant source of friction with our French Allies, besides reacting most unfavourably on the situation in Palestine.

Our authority for action in Trans-Jordania is derived from the Mandate for Palestine; but by Article 25 of the Draft Mandate the Mandatory is entitled to postpone or withhold application of such provisions of the Mandate as he may consider inapplicable to the existing local conditions in the territories lying between the Jordan and the eastern boundary of Palestine as ultimately determined. We are thus free to set up an administration in Trans-Jordania, independent of the Palestinian Government, but with its relations with the Mandatory Power conducted through the High Commissioner for Palestine. In March, 1921, the Colonial Office assumed responsibility for the mandated territories.

So far as Trans-Jordania is concerned, the Emir Abdullah, a son of King Hussein, was invited to act as Head of Administration of the country by the people of the country, and to set up a form of government suitable to local conditions. He accepted the invitation, and has carried out his task in a satisfactory manner. Since his administration was set up there have been only two raids from Trans-Jordania, one into Palestine and one into Syria. These occurred many months ago, and were promptly checked. Moreover, the trans-desert air mail, part of whose route lies across Trans-Jordania, has been established and is working most satisfactorily. I have said that the primary consideration of His Majesty's Government was that of security. The trans-desert air route from Cairo to Baghdad gives us a very definite interest from the point of view of Imperial communications. I am happy to inform your Lordships that since its institution the airmail has met with no local opposition of any kind and has, in fact, received nothing but friendly assistance from the local inhabitants.

Furthermore, since the institution of the present administration, ordinary internal affairs of government have shown, and will, I hope, continue to show, a steady improvement. Revenue has been collected with little difficulty in the central provinces, where improved administrative methods were first introduced, and the outlying districts are being slowly reduced to order as the very limited local forces become able to operate in them. A very able British official has recently been appointed to the post of Chief Political Officer in the country. Out of all the money spent in Palestine, the grant-in-aid for Trans-Jordania will only amount to £110,000.

A reserve for the gendarmerie force is in process of training under a British officer, and the grant-in-aid from Imperial revenues was made to the local administration primarily for the purpose of raising and maintaining the force in the first instance. It is hoped that this force will become effective dining the next financial year, and that its maintenance will then be a charge upon local revenues.

Three hundred and fifty kilometres of railway have recently been repaired, and are now in regular operation. A beginning has been made with the construction of some very necessary roads and bridges. An attempt is also being made to extend the system of telegraphs. Progress will doubtless be slow, and the territory is not naturally rich; but there are grounds for hoping that, given reasonable conditions, the improvement that has taken place during the past year may be steadily maintained.


The noble Duke said nothing about the £5,000 a month paid to the Emir Abdullah. Is that still being paid?


That is not being paid at the present moment. It may have been in the past.