HL Deb 30 June 1926 vol 64 cc678-86

My Lords, I desire to ask if His Majesty's Government have considered the desirability of having the affairs of Iraq, Arabia and Egypt dealt with by one special Department. At the risk of wearying your Lordships, perhaps I can best make clear the intention of the Question that stands in my name on the Paper if I conduct a small geographical and literary excursion through Arabia. I have included in the scope of my Question the Kingdom of Iraq, which, though not geographically a part of Arabia, is immediately concerned with the object of the Question. As your Lordships are aware, we are the Mandatory Power in Iraq. By the Treaty of 1922, when we have secured the admission of Iraq to the League of Nations our responsibility will be concluded. It is hoped that, now that the Mosul question has been so skilfully and happily adjusted by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, our responsibility there may very soon be concluded. We have in Iraq a considerable, though I believe a diminishing, staff of officials to help in the general administration. We have also a military force, and notably the Air Force, to protect the country whilst Iraq is developing her own defensive resources. Iraq is, however, an independent country under a constitutional Monarch. Her frontiers border on Syria, Turkey, Kurdistan and Persia, but I believe that until now Persia has refused to recognise Iraq as a separate entity.

The questions that chiefly arise for determination by our High Commissioner on the spot naturally concern the Foreign Office rather than the Colonial Office, although the Colonial Office administer the Mandate. I believe I am right in saying that the High Commissioner corresponds both with the Foreign Office and the Colonial Office. With whom he corresponds about our troops I really do not know. Iraq stretches to the head of the Persian Gulf, where there is situated the small semi-independent State of Koweit. This State, along with the "Trucial" Chiefs on the Pirate Coast and the State of Oman, extending southwards along the western shore of the Persian Gulf, is in treaty with us, and the States are in some cases subsidised. The Bahrein Islands, which lie in the Persian Gulf, are under our protection, and all these places have Residents or are controlled by our Resident at Bushire, who is appointed by the Indian Government, as are also all the several agencies which are under his jurisdiction. I understand, although I may not be correctly informed, that these several agencies on certain matters do now correspond with the Colonial Office.

Rounding the south-east corner of Arabia, and extending our journey along the south-west and southern coast of Arabia, we come across the tribes of the Hadramaut, who, with the tribes in the Aden hinterland, have their affairs dealt with by our Resident at Aden. Last week my noble friend the Earl of Clarendon told us how the Resident at Aden is responsible for its administration, both civil and military, to the Government of India—he is appointed by the Government of India—but that the Colonial Office is referred to with regard to political matters and all questions relating to our connection with the various tribes; but he did not mention that the personnel of the administration of Aden, other than the Resident, is appointed by the Bombay Political Service Department.

Turning the corner into the Red Sea we arrive at Hodeida, which is at present in the occupation of the Imam of Sanaa. We occupied this port until 1921, and then handed it over to the Idrisi. He was turned out by the present occupant, the Imam of Sanaa. I believe that we have no representative there, although the Italians are concerned in obtaining concessions and have a large trade in arms and ammunition. Going further north we come to the neighbouring tribe of the Idrisi of Asir and then, further north, we come to Jeddah in the Red Sea. The Port of Jeddah is now the port of the Hejaz, and I would call your Lordships' attention to the rather notable fact that from Jeddah down to Aden is, roughly, a distance of 200 miles and yet within that comparatively small stretch of territory you have connected with, or interested in, the administration not only the Government of India but the Government of Bombay and the Colonial Office, who deal with our relations with the tribes, and also particularly with the Imam of Sanaa, and the Idrisi of Asir, while the Foreign Office deals with the Hejaz. I think you will consider that that is a good number of authorities to deal with a comparatively small stretch of country. Pursuing our journey northward to the head of the Red Sea, we come to the Isthmus of Suez and there you have on the one hand the mandated territory of Palestine, which is dealt with by the Colonial Office, and to the left, with no natural frontier, Egypt, which is under the care of the Foreign Office. Going the length of Palestine we come to Syria, where you have the Foreign Office, which has its representatives, called consuls, at Beyrut and Damascus.

That completes my tour and I hope I have convinced your Lordships that we have a considerable number of different authorities dealing with this Arabian Peninsula. It is almost inconceivable that such a cumbersome, illogical system should not lead to inconvenience and, possibly, inefficiency. Time and labour must be wasted in inter-departmental correspondence. It follows, too, that officials belonging as they do to separate Departments, are not in direct touch with their colleagues and cannot be readily transferred from one Arab territory controlled by one Department to another controlled by a different Department; also officials are inevitably sent to represent His Majesty's Government in countries of which they have little, or no knowledge, with the result that, however able and willing they may be, their imperfect acquaintance with the language and conditions places them at a serious disadvantage.

In this case there is no reason for this diversity of administration. Perhaps in no part of the world is there such a compact, uniform stretch of country as is formed by the oblong Arabian Peninsula. Geographically it is a complete entity, and the 5,000,000 of people who are resident there are people of one race, one creed, and one language. They have their own differences and wars, but there is great basic uniformity of feeling permeating the whole of the Peninsula. Manifestations of this occurred when the declaration of a national home for the Jews was made. Immediately, although of course Palestine was the country affected, there were angry protests received from the far south Yemen. Again, last year, when Lord Balfour had a successful journey to Palestine, he no sooner crossed the border into French Syria than unpleasant incidents occurred, showing that the feeling, although perhaps originating in Palestine, had its outlet in another country.

Of course I cannot prove that the present situation in the Aden Protectorate is due to the medley of administration. Last week, when I raised the Question, Lord Clarendon said that I seemed to think that the Colonial Office was doing nothing. I cannot conceive that in the days when Bombay had control of Aden and the hinterland it would have been possible for the Imam of Sanaa to go into that country in 1921, sit down at D'thala, a place within sixty miles of Aden, and remain (here up to the present day, while the proper ruler was a refugee in our midst at Aden. I cannot conceive a more ignominious position for our Empire than to suffer such a disagreeable situation. We failed thereby to make good our responsibilities to those tribes to whom we promised our favour and protection.

I cannot prove it, but I can only imagine that this position is to be ascribed to the fact that there are so many authorities dealing with this particular area of country. Without doubt, the present system is a source of perplexity both to King Feisal of Iraq and more particularly to Ibn Saud, the ruler of the Hejaz. This ruler has to deal with three separate Departments of the Government. As ruler of the Hejaz he communicates with the Foreign Office through our consul at Jeddah; as Sultan of Nejd, whose frontiers march with those of Transjordania and Iraq, he deals with the two High Commissioners, who are subordinates of the Colonial Office; while all matters affecting his eastern seaboard and its commerce in the Persian Gulf he refers to our Resident at Bushire; that is to say, to the Government of India.

Surely there should be a single Department to co-ordinate and centralise our relations with Arabic-speaking countries in the Near East. This should be staffed by officers whose knowledge of the Arab should be generally comprehensive. It should be their duty to collect information from all the countries affected, and to give each part its proper value in relation to the whole. Thus they would be in a position to inform and advise a central Department with greater efficacy than can be the case at present. Eventually they would help in the selection of officers for Arab countries and in the formation of a qualified Civil Service for those countries.

It may be said, if you are creating a separate Department, to which office is it to be allotted? We know the impetuous enthusiasm of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. When these Mandates for Palestine and Iraq were drawn up he was Secretary of State for the Colonies and he managed to get them put under the control of the Colonial Office. That was a most unfortunate blunder. Naturally enough, the people of those mandated territories resented being put under the Colonial Office, which, of course, implied direct submission to this country. No doubt the resentment has been considerably allayed since that time, but nevertheless resentment is still entertained because they are under the supervision of the Colonial Office. With regard to the exercise of the responsibility in other parts of Arabia, Aden is the sole place which, under any pretence, could be properly allotted to the jurisdiction of the Foreign Office. It has certain elements that, partake of the nature of a colony, being akin to Malta or Gibraltar, and, though a small place, is of importance as a garrison on which our maritime supremacy is to a certain extent based. But in the whole vast peninsula of Arabia that is the only place which could be dealt with by the Colonial Department.

In saying this I do not wish for a moment to reflect individually or collectively either on the Colonial Office here or their subordinates in Arabia. My only regret is that they are so dis-advantageously placed to carry out their duties. And, on the whole, for what they have been able to do nobody can criticise them adversely. But it is impossible to say that it is right to place your responsible agents under such a haphazard system. The Foreign Office is probably the Department of State best qualified to have this sub-department placed under its control. In this connection I should mention that I altered the form of my Question two days ago because it seemed imperative that I should include Egypt within its scope. I had originally intended to direct your Lordships' attention to Arabia as being a compact territory, whose affairs, however, are dealt with by very heterogeneous authorities. But all the arguments that tend to support the claim to have a separate Department dealing with Arabia are really also applicable to Egypt.

It must be remembered that Egypt, the Isthmus of Suez and Palestine form the great international thoroughfare between the vast continents of Asia and Africa. From time immemorial there have been vast movements of people, friendly and unfriendly, either in the one direction or the other. You cannot really lay down a strict geographical frontier division between Egypt and Palestine. Again, creed and language are practically the same in Egypt and Arabia. It may be urged that the Foreign Office was not very successful some years ago in its administration of Somaliland, but there is no analogy between Somaliland and these territories. One is quite rightly put under the Colonial Office, but, as regards the areas which I am describing, the questions are nearly all connected with foreign nations. Egypt is an independent country and yet we have military forces stationed there. The same may be said of Iraq and of Palestine. In Egypt you have a kind of international atmosphere, and all European races are represented there. In Palestine, and especially Jerusalem, nearly all the Christian creeds in the world are represented, with their bitter rivalry, and you have the same problem to deal with in both, cases.

I do not think that any one will gainsay that the Foreign Office have been very fairly successful in their conduct of the affairs of Egypt and the Sudan, and I see no reason why they should not be equally capable of overlooking and supervising the affairs of Iraq and Palestine. It should be remembered that a great portion of Arabia is already in direct connection with the Foreign Office, that is, the country of the Hejaz. It might be necessary for our representative at Bushire to have supervision over the Western littoral of the Persian Gulf, but that would not prevent your having a cadre of officials who would know Arabia, and who would be interchangeable, thereby tending to economy of administration.

I do not pretend that the problem is very easy. There must be some difficulties connected with it, otherwise, even with our methods of muddling through, we should have found a solution of this vexed problem before now. But I have not come into touch with anybody, who has had any experience, official, non-official or commercial, of Arabia and those other countries who is not fully alive to the importance of having one single Department to deal with these Near Eastern questions. Only this morning I met a gentleman, than whom perhaps nobody has a more intimate acquaintance, certainly with North-Eastern Arabia, and he told me that some years ago he sent in a memorandum to the Government dealing with this subject. He told me amongst other things that the author of the Athanasian Creed would himself be perplexed if he were asked to give a succinct and distinct account of the varied forms of our administration in Arabia. I know the question has been considered before now, but I hope that it will receive the prompt attention of His Majesty's Government so that a form of administration may be set up suitable to a country which is almost entirely homogeneous instead of the present mixed up and heterogeneous system.


My Lords, I will not follow my noble friend into the historical and geographical survey which he has given your Lordships this afternoon except in so far as to call his attention to some observations which I made last week in reply to a Question which he addressed to me regarding the Imam of Sanaa. I would remind him that I told him on that occasion that Sir Gilbert Clayton, a very distinguished officer, had been negotiating with the Imam of Sanaa on many points on which the noble Lord has touched this afternoon, that Sir Gilbert Clayton had returned to this country and had presented a Report to the Colonial Office which is at present under consideration and on which, obviously, I cannot make any comments at the moment.

Turning to the subject matter of my noble friend's Question, I am bound to admit that we were somewhat puzzled at the Colonial Office as to what actually the noble Lord was seeking information upon. I would say, in reply to my noble friend's Question, that I propose to answer it in two parts, dealing in the first part with the subject; of Iraq and Arabia and in the second with Egypt. I am not quite clear in my mind as to what it is the noble Lord suggests in his Question. If he suggests that all these matters connected with Iraq and Arabia should be conducted by a special Department over which a special Minister should preside, together with a special staff, I think it is perfectly obvious that that is impossible to contemplate at the present moment in view of the necessity for practising rigid economy. If, on the other hand, my noble friend desires to suggest that these affairs should be dealt with by a special Department I would remind him that that is already being done. The Middle East Department of the Colonial Office was set up in the year 1921 and has conducted all the affairs connected with Arabia and Iraq since that date.

With reference to the subject of Egypt, this was only added to my noble frierd's Question, I think, twenty-four hours ago. I have been in touch with the Foreign Office regarding the matter and I am afraid the noble Lord has hardly given me enough Lime to give the consideration to his Question which it deserves; but I am authorised to say in so far as Egypt is concerned that it is not considered desirable to change the practice under which the Foreign Office has conducted all matters and affairs connected with Egypt.