HL Deb 05 July 1927 vol 68 cc171-8

LORD LAMINGTON rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether, with reference to the answer given in June, 1926, they can now give information as to our relations with the Imam of Sanaa; whether a Treaty with him has been negotiated; if a Treaty has not been arrived at, what is the principal reason to account for the failure to do so; whether his forces still occupy any portions of the Aden Protectorate, and, if so, which are the states they occupy; whether such states or tribes still receive our subsidies, and, if so, what is the amount of such subsidies; whether the Amir of D'thala, is still a refugee in Aden; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Questions that stand in my name upon the Paper deal with matters about which I asked the Government a year ago and I should like to know now if there has been any change in the situation since that time. I might very briefly state what the position then was. Aden, as your Lordships know, is an important coaling station and fortress connecting our routes with India and the Far East and Australia. At the back of this Port of Aden there is a wild, rugged, mountainous hinterland occupied by different tribes with whom we have Treaties—Treaties under which on our part we guarantee them protection while on their part they undertake to keep open the trade routes into the interior of Arabia. The Yemen is the land that lies to the north of the Aden hinterland, a fertile part of Arabia, generally known as Arabia Felix. Up to the time of the Great War Turkey claimed suzerainty over that portion of Arabia and at the beginning of this century we agreed with Turkey upon a boundary in respect of this northern frontier of the Aden Protectorate. The boundary was agreed upon for about 200 or 300 miles, but was not completed to the eastern limit. After the War we occupied the Port of Hodeida, which is on the Red Sea and is the national port of this State of Yemen.

When the Turks were defeated and the Armistice took place we handed over the Port of Hodeida to the tribe of the Idrisi, who occupied the Red Sea littoral for some distance north of Aden. It is no great distance from the Port of Aden—it is, so to speak, round the corner of the great Arabian peninsula. When we decided to leave Hodeida we handed over the port and the town to the Idrisi, instead of to the natural and proper suzerain, the Imam of Sanaa or Yemen. Sanaa is simply the capital of Yemen. He was naturally rather affronted at this and as soon as our troops left Hodeida he attacked the Idrisi and drove them out. In his ill-will towards us he also occupied great portions of the Aden hinterland and it is to that that my Question really refers. That was the situation a year ago, and as far as I know it is the same position to-day.

Last year when I raised the Question my noble friend the Earl of Clarendon, who replied for the Government, said:— 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. The noble Earl went on to refer to negotiations conducted by Sir Gilbert Clayton, an officer who conducted very successful negotiations and subsequently negotiated a Treaty with the head of the Wahabis in Central Arabia. Apparently he failed in the negotiations with the Imam of Sanaa. Lord Clarendon said, with regard to these negotiations, that Sir Gilbert Clayton 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. Lord Clarendon also went on to say:— 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"— he is referring there to Lord Sydenham, who backed me up in this matter, and myself— 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. Anybody who knows the conditions which obtain in that part of Arabia must echo that wish. I only hope that the noble Lord who replies for the Government to-night will be able to say that there has been some advance in the last twelve months and that we have arrived at some understanding with the Imam of Sanaa.

If the answer is still an unsatisfactory one we ought to know really what the Government propose doing. For four or five years now this gentleman, the Imam of Sanaa, has been occupying our territory within a comparatively few miles of Aden. I suppose it is not more than thirty or forty miles away from Aden. I referred last year to the Chief of D'thala, who was then a refugee in Aden and, I believe, is still there. It is a most ignominious position for a great Empire like ours not to be able to protect those who have put themselves under our protection or to fulfil our obligations towards them. I need not go into my Questions in detail, but I hope that I shall receive a more satisfactory answer than I received last year. I beg to move.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will permit me, I will deal with both his Questions in a single answer. As he has reminded your Lordships, the question of our relations with the Imam of Sanaa formed the subject of a discussion a year ago. On that occasion my noble friend Lord Clarendon gave a general description of the situation on that side of Arabia and I need not repeat the points upon which he touched.

Speaking generally, the question remains very much in the same position as it was in a year ago. The Imam still remains in occupation of a portion of the Aden Protectorate and no Treaty has yet been concluded with him. The matter has been under constant consideration since Sir Gilbert Clayton returned from Sanaa, in February of last year, when it had proved impossible to bring matters to a definite settlement, but a point has not yet been reached at which it is possible for me to say that negotiations with the Imam have been definitely renewed. We know that the Imam is anxious to come to terms with us, but there are still difficulties in the way of a resumption of discussions with him. The situation is a delicate one and I feel that your Lordships will not wish to press me to give precise details. You will realise that nothing could be more unfortunate than a renewal of negotiations leading to no definite result. Until a basis can be found on which we can negotiate with good prospects of ultimate success, it is better to allow the present situation, unsatisfactory as it is from almost every point of view, to continue unchanged.

The noble Lord has asked for information on certain definite points which I will endeavour to furnish. The portions of the Aden Protectorate of which the Imam is in occupation are as follows: the whole of the territories of the Amiri, Kotaibi, Alawi and Shaib tribes; outlying portions of the Upper Yafa territory; about half the Audali country and a small border tract belonging to the Subehis. The chiefs of these tribes are all in their respective territories, with the exception of the Amir of D'thala, the head of the Amiri tribe, who has been living in Aden since 1920 and still remains there. The following of the chiefs concerned are still in receipt of British subsidies: the Amir of D'thala receives Rs. 9,600 per annum, half of which is in partial compensation for our failure to reinstate him in D'thala and for maintenance; the Alawi receives Rs. 1,200 per annum; the Shaib, Rs. 240 per annum; the Upper Yafa, Rs. 4,800 per annum; the Audali, Rs. 950 per annum; and the Subehi, Rs. 3,684 per annum.

The noble Lord has also asked whether the Treaty made in September last between Italy and the Imam of Sanaa has affected our negotiations with the Imam. To that Question I can reply without hesitation in the negative. The question of Italian relations with the Imam is clearly one that I could not properly discuss, but, as the noble Lord is perhaps aware, there has been a full exchange of views between the British and Italian Governments in regard to their respective interests in this part of the world. There is no misunderstanding between Italy and ourselves, nor need there be any apprehension that legitimate British interests will be adversely affected by Italian policy or action.


My Lords, the noble Lord has put me in a somewhat embarrassing position by answering both Questions on the Paper. I have not yet asked the second, which is "whether His Majesty' Government will say whether the Treaty made last September between Italy and the Imam of Sanaa affects our negotiations for a Treaty with the Imam."


I asked if I might answer the two Questions in one.


It is very obvious from the noble Lord's answer that the unsatisfactory and undignified position of twelve months ago still continues. We are unable to fulfil our most obvious obligations to these unfortunate tribes. One would like to know whether the trade routes are still open and trade is coming to Aden, though I do not suppose that the noble Lord can answer that question at the moment. I presume that if the territory of these tribes is occupied by the Imam they cannot fulfil their part of the Treaty in allowing trade to come through from the interior of Arabia. As regards our obtaining a Treaty with the Imam himself, apparently nobody knows what is the point to which he objects and on account of which he will not make a Treaty. I believe that he is personally friendly to our country. What is the reason why he will not come to an agreement in regard to this question, which is not really a very big one? I have already explained the reasons why he went into the hinterland, and I will only ask the noble Lord whether, in view of what was said last year, he will lay upon the Table of the House a Report of the negotiations which took place between the Imam and Sir Gilbert Clayton. It is most desirable to know, if possible, what are the obstacles in the way of a settlement being arrived at.

I should also like to ask how it is that Italy has been able to make a Treaty of friendship and commerce with the Imam when we have failed. The Italian newspapers are naturally very pleased with this result, and only last month there was a Diplomatic Mission from the Yemen that went to Rome and presented an address to Signor Mussolini. I am glad to hear from the noble Lord that there is no outstanding difference of opinion between ourselves and Italy on this question, but the Italian Press seems to attach a great deal of importance to this Treaty of friendship and commerce. They point out that Mussolini's policy is a definite factor for peace and that Italy has consolidated the peace of Arabia. I will not trouble your Lordships with extracts from these newspapers, but it is evident that Italian public opinion attaches great importance to these developments. I will only ask whether a Report of the negotiations that took place in February of last year between the Imam of Sanaa and Sir Gilbert Clayton may be made public and laid upon the Table.


My Lords, the noble Lord has asked three questions which I shall be very happy to answer. The first is on the question of the trade routes. With the exception of the old trade routes of the Amiri, the Chief of whom is now in Aden, the trade routes through his country are open, although the Chief at Sanaa charges extra fees, so that double fees have to be paid. Otherwise the trade routes can be said to be open. On the question of why we cannot come to an agreement while the Italians have been able to do so, the answer is simply that while we have a large amount of protected land, the Italian interest is entirely confined to the other side of the Red Sea, and therefore they negotiate on absolutely new conditions. The Government are fully aware of the importance of coming to an agreement with the Imam if it is in any way possible, and it is hoped that some basis will be arrived at on which discussions can take place. I must, however, again point out that it is most important that if discussions are begun they should not break down, as on the other two occasions. On the third question, as to Sir Gilbert Clayton's Report, His Majesty's Government are of opinion that it would not be advisable to lay this on the Table of the House; but as the noble Lord is particularly interested in the matter, and has very considerable knowledge of that district, having, as we know, been absolutely in charge of it in his time, we shall be very glad to inform him of all the portions of the Report which are likely to be of interest to him.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at seventeen minutes before eight o'clock.