My Lords, I beg to ask His Majesty's Government the Questions standing in my name on the Paper—namely:—
(1) Whether what is known as the Rutenberg scheme for the development of the Jordan Valley has been sanctioned by the Government; (2) whether the owners and occupiers of the lands affected have expressed approval of the scheme; (3) whether the Government accept any responsibility for the success of the scheme; (4) whether the scheme will be carried out under Government control or supervision; (5) whether Jews working on the scheme will be afforded special protection, and if so, who will pay for it.
THE DUKE OF SUTHERLAND
My Lords, the Rutenberg scheme is the most substantial practical contribution so far made by Judaism to the restoration of prosperity to Palestine. The proposal, put shortly, is that the river Jordan should be dammed at the point where it leaves the Lake of Tiberias and the lake thus converted into a great natural reservoir. Turbines are then to be installed near the dam and the water power employed for the generation of electricity. The water after passing through the turbines will return to the old course of the Jordan. The scheme, as originally prepared, included, in addition to the production of electrical energy, an elaborate irrigation project, the effect of which would be to bring under cultivation large areas which are at present practically waste lands, used only for grazing at certain seasons of the year.
This irrigation project has not yet been taken up, as the Palestine Government feel that the time is not yet ripe to put it into operation. On the other hand, that Government has signed an agreement with Mr. Rutenberg to the effect that if he will form a company with a certain fixed minimum of capital, he will be given a concession for the hydro-electrical project. The agreement provides that the Memorandum and Articles of Association and other regulations and constitution of the company to be formed shall be subject to the approval of the High Commissioner for Palestine, in agreement with the Jewish Agency referred to in the Mandate for Palestine. The concession also provides for the limitation of the profits to be earned by the company, 508 and for control by the Government of the rates to be charged for electrical energy. The whole working of the company is, in short, to be under Government control and supervision. On the other hand, the Government has not accepted, and does not propose to accept, any financial responsibility for the success of the scheme. This answers the first, third and fourth points in the noble Lord's Question.
As regards the second point, the whole scheme has been very carefully examined by the Palestine Government and by the advisers of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and the fullest provisions have been made for preserving the rights and interests of the owners of the lands affected. These owners have not, however, been directly consulted in the matter. The scheme is one which, His Majesty's Government and the Palestine Government are satisfied, will greatly benefit the whole of Palestine. The natural conditions, the level of the land and so on, make it necessary that the canals, the power-house and other works should be situated within a small area. It would obviously be contrary to public interest to allow the owners of the land in that area to impose an absolute veto on the whole project. There is not at present any evidence that these owners will desire to impose such a veto; but if the necessity arises land will have to be expropriated and equitable compensation given. The position is very much the same that arose in this country when the great railways were being built. It is common knowledge that at that time the owners of some of the lands over which the railways were to pass were bitterly opposed to the scheme and did their best to create difficulties. Vested interests, however, were not allowed to stand in the way of the common good, and I am sure that your Lordships will not wish that prejudices and vested interests, supposing such to exist, should be allowed to stand in the way of a scheme which will bring such immense benefits to the whole of Palestine.
May I ask the noble Duke whether the owners will be given an opportunity of appearing before an independent tribunal?
THE DUKE OF SUTHERLAND
I must have notice of that Question. Perhaps the noble Lord will ask me later. As regards the last part of the Question on the Paper, Mr. Rutenberg and his friends do 509 not propose to employ only Jewish labour on the works which are to be carried out. On the contrary, the scheme will benefit all inhabitants of the country, Jews and Arabs alike; it will give employment to large numbers of Arabs; Jewish and Arab labourers will work side by side on digging the canals, building the power-houses, installing the machinery and keeping the whole in running order, each class of labour performing the work for which it is most suited. It will be the duty of the Government, just as it is the duty of every constituted Government, to maintain public order and protect these and all other important public works from raiders and other irresponsible opponents of law, order and progress. This is provided for in a clause of the concession which runs as follows:—"The undertaking of the Company under this concession shall be recognised as a public utility body under Government control and all the installations and property of the undertaking shall receive protection as such and the company shall be entitled only to such rights to compensation for damage as are provided by law."