HL Deb 04 March 1925 vol 60 cc399-405

My Lords, I beg to ask His Majesty's Government whether there have been any political changes in Trans-Jordan since last August; and what is the present position. I ventured last year to call attention to the deplorable condition of Trans-Jordan. The noble Lord, Lord Arnold, who replied to me, said that my strictures were entirely unjustified, although the situation was not wholly satisfactory. I am glad to say that since that date there has been a complete change in the state of affairs in Trans-Jordan, and the condition of the country has improved to a very great extent. After three and a half years of gross misrule, the country was in a state of great impoverishment and disorganisation. Nevertheless, the present state of affairs is a more satisfactory one, and I understand the general situation is improving daily.

There are only two matters on which I should like to ask the noble Earl for information. The first refers to the relations between Trans-Jordan and Palestine. At the present time the High Commissioner for Palestine is also responsible for the administration of Trans-Jordan, and in view of the close connection between the two countries, it is, I think, desirable that he should continue to be so responsible. But, in 1921, Sir Herbert Samuel, on behalf of the British Government, promised the people of Trans-Jordan that their administration should be entirely separate and independent from that of Palestine. What I venture to suggest to His Majesty's Government is that when the next High Commissioner is appointed he should be given a dual title; that is to say, besides being High Commissioner of Palestine, he should be appointed Chief Commissioner of Trans-Jordan, or some thing of that sort. There are many precedents for such a course, and it would in no way derogate from his powers or responsibilities, but would emphasise the fact that the two countries are quite separate in their administration.

The other question I should like to ask is one which, I am afraid, I did not put on the Paper. It relates to the eastern frontier of Trans-Jordan. During the time of Abdullah it really did not matte where the frontier was, but it has now-become a question of considerable importance, and it is a question also of considerable difficulty. If you confine yourselves to the cultivated area you render the country very liable to raids. If, however, you take the whole of the area which is frequented by the Trans-Jordanian bedouin you make yourselves responsible for a region over which it is quite impossible to have any effective control. I think that some middle course will have to be adopted. But I hope that the Government, before finally deciding this question, will endeavour to settle it in a friendly manner with Ibn Saud


My Lords, my noble friend put down a Question on the Paper which he has answered himself, and then he proceeded to ask two questions which he did not put down on the Paper. If he will allow me to do so sketchily, I will endeavour to give him such reply as I am able on the spur of the moment. He drew attention in his observations to the position, as it stands at present, of Palestine and Trans-Jordan, and I think that he showed that he had some doubts in his mind as to the exact relation between those two countries. I will try to make it clear. In Palestine proper, that is to say, in the region west of the Jordan, His Majesty's Government are committed to carrying out the policy of the Balfour Declaration, and facilitating the creation of the Jewish National Home. In Trans-Jordan, that is to say, in the territory across the Jordan, His Majesty's Government are committed to carrying out the pledge given by Sir Henry MacMahon to recognise and support the independence of the Arabs.

The principal Allied and Associated Powers, and, after them, the League of Nations, have decided—and, I think your Lordships will agree, have decided quite rightly—that Trans-Jordan is not yet in a position to stand alone, but requires the support and guidance of a Mandatory Power. I think that obviously the inhabitants of Trans-Jordan would admit that they are financially unfit at present to govern themselves without assistance and guidance. For reasons entirely of administrative convenience His Majesty's Government have provided, and are providing, that guidance by posting in Trans-Jordan five British officers, of whom three are permanent officers of the Palestine service, one is an officer of the Royal Air Force, who is seconded for service in Trans-Jordan, and one serves in a temporary capacity. One of the Palestine officers (Colonel Peake) is a servant of the Trans-Jordan Government, while the Air Force officer whom I mentioned is his second in command. The other three officers are all in a purely advisory capacity, and the Chief British Resident is very much in the same position as the Resident in a Native State in India.

For reasons of administrative convenience it has been found necessary to place the Chief British Resident under the High Commissioner, because the High Commissioner is the representative of His Majesty the King in the whole mandated territory of Palestine, that is to say, in Trans-Jordan and Palestine together. This does not mean that the Trans-Jordan Government is in any way under the Palestine Government. It is not. They are separate administrations altogether. It is true that for administrative convenience again, various heads of Departments in Palestine have assisted the Chief British Resident and the Trans-Jordan Government in regard to technical matters in which they are experts. For instance, the Palestine auditor overhauled the whole financial arrangements of the Trans-Jordan Government, and gave them a decent accounting system and a set of financial regulations, and the Palestine Postmaster-General lent them an officer to get their Post Office into order. But all these people came to Trans-Jordan as advisers, and on temporary Missions.

The Jewish population of Palestine have no control over Trans-Jordan at all, and in view of the constitutional position of Trans-Jordan they never can obtain such control. Their special position in Palestine, in so far as they can be said to enjoy a special position there, is based upon the Articles in the Mandate which define the functions, and so on, of the Jewish Agency. These Articles have been expressly declared not to apply to Trans-Jordan. I think that answers the question which my noble friend put to me in regard to the position in Trans-Jordan. But he has made a suggestion that if at any time in the future there are to be changes in the Government of Palestine perhaps it will be possible to make some of them in the way he has suggested. I am sure that my noble friend will not expect me to refer to that suggestion, or to make any reply in regard to it at the present time.

I will deal also with the question of the frontier in a moment and I deal now with the whole matter of reform. I do not think I need point out at very great length that there have been very considerable and very great reforms in the government of Trans-Jordan since August last, because my noble friend, in asking his Question, admitted that freely and fully. Reforms have been effected in pursuance of instructions which were sent by my noble friend opposite to the Government of Trans-Jordan and they were carried out by Colonel Cox, the chief British Resident. I should like to emphasise this fact, because I want to make it clear that the policy which has been pursued in Trans-Jordan has been one of continuity and has been carried on from the last Government by His Majesty's present Government.

The noble Lord, Lord Arnold, told your Lordships last summer, in answer to a Question by my noble friend, that it was hoped very shortly to enter into friendly discussion with the Emir Abdullah in regard to improvement of the administration, and fiction was taken upon that at the earliest moment. The Emir happened to be on a pilgrimage to the Hejaz in the summer, but directly on his return to Amman the chief British representative went to see him and presented him with a letter indicating the measures which His Majesty's Government desired to see carried into effect for the improvement of the administration of Trans-Jordan. Before I describe those improvements I should like to say that the credit must be awarded in very great degree to Lieut-Colonel Cox, the chief British representative at the present time. Colonel Cox deserves the greatest credit for his efforts. The improvement which has taken place since his interview with the Emir in August last has been most marked, and altogether since he assumed his duties as chief British representative about ten months ago there has been a really remarkable change in the whole political situation in the country.

Now I will endeavour to give some account of the reforms which have been effected. The letter to which I have referred asked the Emir to agree to British inspection of the military forces of Trans-Jordan, and to their disposal and employment under British advice. It also asked him to agree to the deportation of certain undesirables, to an extradition agreement with Syria, to the abolition of the Department of Tribal Administration and to certain financial reforms. These proposals were accepted by the Emir and his Government, and were carried out in a very short time considering all the difficulties which naturally must obtain in such States as this. The most important reform was the introduction of a new system of financial control, which came into operation on October 1 last and has been most satisfactory in its result. The expenditure is now properly regulated and controlled in accordance with written estimates. Proper financial regulations have been drawn up on the advice, as I have already pointed out, of an official of the Government of Palestine who went to Trans-Jordan for the purpose, and have been in operation since October with the result that there was an immediate improvement in the cash balance in the Treasury.

I may say, further, that all salaries are paid up to date, and the expenses of the Court are kept within the limits of the Civil List. Then changes have been effected in the administration. The former Chief Minister, Hassan Khalid, has been succeeded by Riza Pasha Rikabi. A number of other changes have been made in the official staff. Officials who have proved themselves to be incompetent have been dismissed and competent persons have been put in their places. Such changes have been made with considerable success in the Departments of Public Works, and Posts and Telegraphs. Another step has been taken which I am sure will be approved by my noble friend. When posts have become vacant they have been filled by natives of Trans-Jordan rather than by those who are not Trans-Jordanians. Thus the new Governor of Amman is a local Circassian and the new Director of Education is a native of the country. A road transport ordinance has also been passed, and a simple and effective law enacted for dealing with tribal cases.

That brings me to the next point, the question of the eastern frontier. I can only give my noble friend a little information upon it and I will touch upon it now. Great improvements have been made in public security, and control has been exercised over tribes who have defied the authority of the Government in the past. For instance, Sheikh Mithgal, of the Beni Saker Arabs, who had given a considerable amount of trouble to the authorities, has now submitted and made his peace with them. On the question of raids, which was mentioned by my noble friend, the Government has taken very drastic action in protecting people from the depredations of Syrian raiders. They have had considerable success in their efforts, with the result that a great deal of land which it was not considered worth while to cultivate has been brought under cultivation. Colonel Peake, the Commander of the Arab Legion, who with Colonel Cox deserves, I think, a large degree of credit for the successful change which has been brought about in this region, has now been placed definitely in charge of the Department of Police and Prisons, with the result that there has been considerable improvement in the police and prison administration.

With regard to extradition, an extradition arrangement has been made with Syria and extradition between Trans-Jordan and Palestine is now working smoothly. An arts and crafts school has been opened in Amman, facilities to tourists visiting antiquity sites are being encouraged, and various other minor details of improvement have been effected. I think from what I have told your Lordships that we may regard the position as on the whole very satisfactory indeed and the improvement, especially since last August, when the last Government took action and Colonel Cox became responsible, as having been most notable. I think that the criticisms which were levelled by my noble friend at the Government last year have now been met.


My Lords, I am much obliged to my noble friend for his reply to my Question. I should like to associate myself with what he said as to the good work done by Colonel Cox and Colonel Peake.