HL Deb 23 June 1926 vol 64 cc536-41

LORD LAMINGTON had given Notice to ask His Majesty's Government whether the State of D'thala and other parts of the Aden Protectorate are occupied by the forces of the Imam of Sanaa; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Question that stands in my name deals with that very important outpost of our Empire, Aden, which is one of the positions that safeguards our trade to the East, to India and to Australia. It is a very small area and its hinterland is a very hilly country, if you except the State of Lahej, which is the State immediately neighbouring upon Aden. All the other country is a hilly tract extending for 300 or 600 miles to the north-east, coast of Arabia. It is occupied by many tribes who are generally engaged in warfare amongst themselves. We do not interfere with these pastimes, but the State of D'thala is of some considerable importance as it is only sixty or seventy miles from Aden. At one time it was thought possible to establish a sanatorium there for the benefit of our troops stationed on the sun-baked rocks of Aden, but unfortunately this has not been accomplished. We have Treaties with these different tribes and subsidise many of them, the one condition being that they should maintain the trade routes open through their territory from Yemen down to Aden, which is the entrepôt or port of that part of Arabia.

So long ago as 1839 we had a Treaty with the State of Lahej, which, as I say, is the neighbouring State to Aden, and that Treaty was designed to give protection to Lahej from the incursions of the ldrisi. That arrangement continued until 1878, when a fresh Treaty was made. In that year Turkey had defeated the Imam, and a Treaty was made with Turkey to give protection to the tribes which formed our Protectorate. At the beginning of this century the Turks themselves had failed to observe the terms of the Treaty and had violated our frontier. Accordingly a Boundary Commission was formed to delimitate the frontier between our Protectorate and Yemen, which is a district lying immediately to the north. One of the conditions of the Treaty was that we should safeguard these tribes from incursions from outside the Aden Protectorate. I understand that since 1919 the Imam has occupied D'thala. The Chief of D'thala is now a refugee in Aden City and I presume has made from time to time complaints of his position. My information, I admit, is rather scanty and I am really asking for information and therefore it is desirable to have Papers to tell us what has been going on in this not unimportant part of our Empire.

Our prestige, from all accounts, is now practically nil in that part of the world owing to our failure to fulfil our obligations. I admit that it is difficult for us to do much except by diplomatic representations. I do not suppose that it is very material to our interests at Aden who occupies or holds sway over this district. These wild tribes are a very unruly set of people and while they do not attack Aden it is not very material to us so long as they keep open the trade routes. It is, however, rather lamentable that we should be doing nothing at all but allow the Imam to sit down in D'thala and other places and take no steps at all to satisfy the representations which I presume are being made by the various tribes as to their position at present. It is for that reason that our prestige has fallen so low. If we can at least come to some understanding with the Imam it would be some satisfaction because thereby we might be able to get certain advantages in other directions, even at the expense, perhaps, of the non-fulfilment of our other obligations. My information, however, is very slight and I think it would be satisfactory if we could hear from the noble Earl, on behalf of the Government, what is the position. I therefore beg to move for Papers, for it is a matter of great importance that we should know what are the attendant circumstances regarding our outposts of Empire.


My Lords, the question raised is one of very considerable importance concerning what was our Protectorate, which the noble Lord has described. He and I, as late Governors, of Bombay, had much to do with these Aden Chiefs. We had to pay the subsidies to them and sometimes to arrange their quarrels. We had in my time a question of the water supply by which water was provided for Aden and its garrison. When the War broke out the Turks carne into this territory and I think killed the Sultan of Lahej. They did a large amount of damage and burnt the barracks of the Aden Horse outside Aden. We have lost the prestige which we had with these people, and I think we ought to make some arrangement with the Imam which would at least guarantee the security of the trade which used to come to Aden and of Aden itself. I do not know in the least how the position now stands, and I trust that the Government may be able to give us as full information as possible.


My Lords, in reply to the Question which has been addressed to the Government by my noble friend Lord Lamington, I think that at the outset it would be desirable that I should make some statement which would render your Lordships familiar with the position in regard to the Aden Protectorate. The territory, as probably you are aware, lies behind the town and settlement of Men itself. The territory in question is inhabited by Arab tribes and the British Government, as has been stated, has had Treaty relations with these Chiefs for some time past. Our communications are conducted through the Resident. The Resident is appointed by the Government of India and is responsible, in so far as the administration of the area is concerned, to the Indian Government, but he acts through the Colonial Office in so far as all political matters and all relations with the tribes are concerned. The Protectorate marches with the territory of South-West Arabia, and is known, as has been pointed out, as the Yemen. The boundary between South-West Arabia and the Yemen was fixed in the year 1905, after negotiations had taken place between the British and Turkish Governments. Turkish sovereignty has disappeared altogether since the War, and all authority is now vested in an Arab Chief, known as the Imam of Sanaa. This Chief, I want to make it quite clear to your Lordships, is a totally independent ruler and is not subject to any external control, or to any Mandate.

The Imam does not recognise the frontier to which I have referred to the fixing of which he claims he was not a party. He has claimed certain areas on the Aden side of the frontier, which he states form part of his ancestral domain. He is in possession of certain areas, including the State of D'thala, to which my noble friend has referred in his Question. The British Government do not recognise this claim which is advanced by the Imam of Sanaa, inasmuch as the tribes who inhabit that territory have Treaty rights with regard to British protection. Negotiations have been going on for some considerable time with the Imam of Sanaa. My noble friend, in asking his Question, rather seemed to think that the British Government had been doing nothing with regard to this matter. That is very far from the truth, and last year a special Envoy was sent to Sanaa in order to try to settle all the questions outstanding.

The Envoy who was chosen is a gentleman who is well known to your Lordships. I myself had occasion to refer to him some few months ago in your Lordships' House. He is Sir Gilbert Clayton, an officer of very wide experience, who, as your Lordships are probably aware, has already concluded two Agreements with the Sultan of Nejd the text of which has been published in the form of a White Paper. Sir Gilbert Clayton reached Sanaa on January 24 of last year and left on his return to England on February 21. The time which he spent in that country was short, and, while when he was there no Agreement was actually reached, the time was undoubtedly not wasted. He established while he was there the most friendly relations not only with the Imam himself but with the Imam's chief advisers. He did a great deal to remove certain misunderstandings which existed at the time and in our opinion he has undoubtedly paved the way for future settlement.

When Sir Gilbert Clayton paid a visit to the Imam to say farewell he was received with great distinction and it was quite obvious that the Imam desired that all possible honour on this occasion should be done to the British Representative. The Imam himself was extremely friendly. He reiterated the desire for friendly relations with Great Britain and expressed the hope that Sir Gilbert when he returned to this country would be in a position to give explanations to His Majesty's Government which would ultimately lead to a satisfactory settlement.

Sir Gilbert Clayton has handed in his Report, which is at the present moment receiving the most careful consideration of the Government. I can assure the two noble Lords who have taken part in this debate that we are anxious that a satisfactory settlement of this question should be reached as speedily as possible. But I am sure, after what I have said with regard to Sir Gilbert Clayton's Report, that your Lordships would not desire me to say anything further on that subject at the moment. I can assure Lord Lamington that the points that he has raised in this debate and any others that he desires to raise at a future date will receive the close attention of His Majesty's Government.


My Lords, it is satisfactory indeed to hear from, my noble friend as to the friendly nature of the visit paid by Sir Gilbert Clayton to the Imam of Sanaa, but meanwhile these unfortunate tribes in the Aden Protectorate do not seem to get much benefit from that visit. I hope that the Government will publish the Report of Sir Gilbert Clayton and also any other Papers connected with this invasion—for no doubt it is an invasion—of territory for which we are responsible. As to my Motion for Papers, I have consulted my noble friend, and after what he says I will make the Motion for Papers later on in the Session.

I should like to ask, however, whether we are still paying subsidies to these tribes who are no longer under our protection, and what are the other tribes whose territories have been invaded or taken over by the Imam besides the tribe of D'thala. It is rather important to know whether we are still paying these subsidies without guaranteeing protection to the people who are receiving the subsidies. I should like to know also whether the trade routes are being kept open by the tribes with whom we have made these various undertakings in the past, or whether they have lapsed owing to the action of the Imam of Sanaa. I shall be very grateful if the noble Earl can answer these questions. Meanwhile, I will withdraw by Motion for Papers.


My Lords, in reply to the first question of my noble friend small subsidies are still being paid to the tribes which he has mentioned. As to the other questions which he has put to me I have not the information at my disposal at the moment, but if he will raise the points at a later date I will supply him with the information that is necessary.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.