HL Deb 28 May 1924 vol 57 cc707-9

My Lords, I wish to ask His Majesty's Government whom they regard as the owners of the Hejaz Railway; that, is to say, the railway connecting Damascus and Haifa with Medina. The Hejaz Railway, as many of your Lordships are no doubt aware, was built by the Turkish Government partly with its own funds and partly with funds subscribed by Mahomedans in various parts of the world. It connects the City of Damascus and the port of Haifa with Medina. It was originally intended that it should go on to Mecca, but owing to the opposition of the tribes of that part of the country, who make a livelihood by blackmailing pilgrims, it never got further than Medina. As the result of the war, as your Lordships are aware, this unfortunate territory has been divided into four different States, and the proportion of the Hejaz Railway in each of these different States is approximately as follows:—Palestine, 50 miles; French Syria, 120 miles: Trans-Jordania, 150 miles; and the Hejaz, 500 miles. By the Treaty of Lausanne the Turks surrendered all their rights in these territories, including, presumably, their rights in this railway, and the point on which I am now seeking information in the question of to whom the railway now belongs.


My Lords, I think the noble Lord asks grabber a difficult Question when he refers to the ownership of the railway, but as regards the practical conditions and the control of the railway, I hope I can answer him satisfactorily. He is quite right in stating that, at any rate, what I will call the main line of railway from Damascus to Medina was constructed with the contributions of pious Moslems with the view that it should be used as a pilgrim line to Medina, and so far as the British Government are concerned—I shall have to say a word or two presently as to details—their desire is that the beneficiaries who were originally intended to have the benefit of that line should be secured in that benefit, and that, so far as our interests are concerned, we should really adopt the position of trustees where we are in control, first of all, of course, providing for the equipment of the line, and then ensuring that it should be worked for the benefit of the pilgrims for whom it was undoubtedly intended in the first instance. As regards the other portion of the line to which the noble Lord referred, that which runs from Haifa to Deraa, the original intentions with which it was constructed are not so clearly known, but I believe that substantially the same conditions existed. Such, at any rate, is the view that the British Government take. In their view, accordingly, the whole line, so far as they are in control, should be worked for the benefit of the pilgrims for whom it was intended, after provision has been made for the cost of equipment.

The, noble Lord has pointed out one of the difficulties of this case in referring to the sections into which the line is divided at the present time. The part of the line between Haifa and Semakh has been under British management and control from the war period, and, I think, has always been managed by them as trustees, and for the purposes which I have indicated. From Semakh to Nasib the French are now in control—that, I think, is what the noble Lord implies by ownership—but a question of frontier has boon raised between the French and this country. It is hoped, at any rate from the point of view of Great Britain, that in future the control of this line from Haifa to Nasib will be under Great Britain. From Nasib southward the control has only recently come under Great Britain. Previously it was under rather indefinite control—I think that is the right expression to use—and has probably fallen into considerable disrepair and difficulty regarding management. It has now, however, come under the control of Great Britain, and our desire is to utilise it in the same way, using the money first of all for equipment purposes and then for pilgrim purposes. Southward, from Nasib to Damascus, it is in French territory, and the last part of the line, as the noble Lord has pointed out, is in Hejaz territory.

I see the noble Marquess, Lord Curzon of Kedleston, opposite, and he will be very cognisant of these matters, but so far as the declaration at Lausanne is concerned, I understand that it laid down a policy under which the railway should be carried on, which was adopted and agreed upon both by France and by Great Britain. I do not think that there are any other factors as to which I can give any information to the noble Lord, but I hope I have provided him with the information which he desires.


May I point out to the noble Lord that—although I thank him for the information he has given—he has not really answered my Question as all? I asked who were the owners. The question may be a difficult one, but I think the noble Lord will admit that somebody must own the railway.


If I may speak again with the permission of the House, may I repeat what I said before, that so far as the practical control is concerned it is in the hands which I have mentioned? So far as the owners in a technical sense are concerned, it was a line held in trusteeship for pious Moslem purposes, just as in this country you may have both a trustee and an owner. The owner in the first instance, I presume, was the Turkish Government, if you are to apply that term to anybody at all. The railway was, I believe, always used for pilgrim purposes, and intended to be so used by pious Moslems, and I suppose that the ownership in that sense is with the various Governments who have been acting as trustees for the Moslem pilgrims.


May I ask the noble Lord whether there is a connected service between Damascus and the Hejaz; that is to say, whether the different portions of the line are worked together or kept distinct?


I must ask the noble Lord to put down a Question. I have not that detail before me.