HL Deb 15 March 1928 vol 70 cc493-500

had given Notice to ask His Majesty's Government whether the Imam of Sanaa is still in occupation of territories within the area of the Aden Protectorate; if so, which are the States so occupied; whether in these cases the chiefs of the States are still paid subsidies by the British Government, and whether there is any prospect of an agreement with the Imam of Sanaa being arrived at; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I must apologise for raising this Question for the third time in three years. It was in June, 1926, that I first raised it, and I will very briefly recapitulate the situation. The Aden Protectorate has for its northern boundary one settled between ourselves and the Turkish Government in 1904. In the Great War, after our defeat of the Turks, we occupied the Port of Hodeida, on the Red Sea. It is the national port of the Yemen country. Very inadvisedly, injudiciously and shortsightedly, and very wrongly, our authorities after the War hastily handed over that port to the Idrisi, whose territory is on the Red Sea to the north of Hodeida. Hodeida has been the recognised port of the Yemen for a thousand years and more. The Imam of Sanaa or Yemen—Sanaa is the capital of Yemen—was very indignant at this and he at once occupied our Protectorate to a very great extent. That was about 1920 and therefore, for upwards of seven years, he has been occupying a great portion of the tribal lands under our protection. I imagine that that is the situation to-day.

Two years ago Sir Gilbert Clayton, a very capable officer, tried to negotiate with the Imam a Treaty of friendship, but though he was there for about a month he failed to obtain any satisfactory terms. The consequence is that our trade between Aden and Yemen—I ought to say that Yemen is the fertile part of Southern Arabia and was known in old times as Arabia Felix, the happy portion of a very rich country indeed—is stopped. Our Treaties with the tribes in the hinterland are chiefly connected with keeping open the trade routes so that the wealth of the Yemen can come down to Aden and from there be transferred to places where the goods may be required. That is really the sole obligation of the tribes, to keep the trade routes open, and we, on our part, give them subsidies for this purpose. But we have no responsibility whatsoever, I chink I am right in saying, for administering the country. We have lost several hundred thousand pounds worth of trade. I think that last year the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, told me that trade was still going on, but my information goes quite in the opposite direction and is to the effect that the trade routes are practically closed. We have in addition lost the possibility of establishing a much-needed hill station on the highlands that are found in the hinterland. At the same time other countries, particular Italy and America, are establishing very friendly relations with the Imam of Sanaa and are obtaining a great portion of the trade that we have lost and that has been diverted to Hodeida, the port that I have mentioned on the Red Sea.

Since I put my Question on the Paper news has appeared in The Times that the Imam of Sanaa has committed an act of aggression by seizing the two prominent sheiks of the Alawi and Kutefi tribes, making them prisoner and taking them away from their States. We recognised the monstrosity of this action and severely bombarded Kateba, a garrison town that is just over the boundary. The Government have further undertaken the duty of forming levies from some of the tribes in our Protectorate, and I hope that these levies will be employed to redress the grievances that have been suffered from the actions of the Imam of Sanaa. On the other hand, I am told on very good authority and from distinct sources that the Imam is very anxious to live on terms of friendship and amity with us, and I believe that it might be possible to arrange some satisfactory solution if, coupled with firmness and with evidence of our determination to give protection to these tribes, we at the same time indicated our willingness to rectify or amend the frontier of 1904. It must be remembered that this frontier was agreed to between ourselves and Turkey, Yemen being at that time under the suzerainty of Turkey. The Imam very naturally says that he had no responsibility for that frontier because he was not consulted, and a great deal of the territory which is now included in the Protectorate belonged to the Yemen for centuries, perhaps for a thousand Years. Accordingly I think that he has a claim to have his point of view considered and that it might be possible to meet the situation by recasting the frontier line.

I say this, not as one who likes to abdicate from a position that we have taken up, but because I think that two conditions ought always to be considered before such action is taken. In the first place we must consider what will be the effect upon our interests and our prestige. Our prestige in that part of the world is now practically nothing. It could hardly be otherwise after the humiliation of a great country like ours seeing these territories occupied by an Arab chief, however distinguished, while we practically claimed no redress. Accordingly there is no humiliation to us in consenting to recast the areas that are nominally under our protection. The other condition that ought to be considered is whether the tribes themselves are likely to suffer if they are handed over to the Yemen. We have in the past once or twice inflicted very grievous hardship on those who have been friendly to us, as in the case of Somaliland, by abandoning them for our own ends, but I do not imagine that any penalties would be inflicted on these tribes by the Imam of Sanaa if they came again under his jurisdiction. As I have said, we have not attempted to administer them, we have imposed no form of government and they have been left entirely to their own devices. Accordingly there will be no serious change in their condition.

So far as the security of Aden itself is concerned, I do not think that there would be any increased danger in having a frontier agreed upon with the Imam, who is now the rightful owner of his own land since Turkey has been deprived of all these territories. I think there is every hope that, if proceedings were again instituted with a view to reasoning with the Imam and asking him to come to an agreement with us, such a proposal would probably be effective in securing a recognised frontier by which our prestige would be restored and the Imam himself would be satisfied. I only hope that the noble Lord will be able to say that there is some chance of the Government taking some action. If the assumptions contained in my Question are correct, the position at the present moment is exactly as it has been for the last six or seven years. I am sure that any further delay can only be against our interests, and I see no prospect of a change for the better unless something is done. Our past experience has shown that nothing is likely to occur without our taking some action. On the other hand, we are losing great opportunities and are running certain risks of other nations taking advantage of the fact that we have no trade with the Imam and establishing themselves more securely in his territory and on the Red Sea coast. I beg to move.


My Lords, before the noble Lord replies on behalf of the Government, I should like to support the noble Lord who has asked this Question by emphasising one point on which he has not perhaps laid sufficient stress. He mentioned the caravan routes of Aden, and notably the route to D'thala. I understand that this route is now blocked. He did not mention another caravan route which, as many of your Lordships are aware, runs along the coast of Aden to a town called Makalla, which is a long way off but which does a great trade with Aden. From that town a good deal of money comes to pay for goods sent there, in spite of its Scottish name. There is one point about twenty-five miles along this route where there is an Arab tribe on the coast and, inside the territory of that tribe, there is another tribe which is at feud with it, while in the further hinterland there is yet another tribe which, I understand, has had its territories occupied by the Imam of Yemen. There is not the slightest doubt that, if the Imam were to take the territory of the tribe next to him, which is at feud with the tribe next the sea, he would probably use that feud to take action against the tribe by the sea and would so get astride this caravan route, which is a very important one. I think that this is a point worth mentioning, because it concerns a great deal of the trade that is carried on through the Aden Protectorate, very largely through the support which we have in the past given. If that support be now withdrawn, it will really be a serious thing for British prestige, and I hope that the Government will give us an assurance on that point, as well as on the other point raised by the noble Lord.


My Lords, I am sure that the Government cannot make any complaint as to the way in which the noble Lord has brought forward this Question, and for my own part I would say that with the exception of one or two smaller and minor particulars he has stated his case quite fairly. He will not be disappointed to learn that the position is the same as it was in July last, when he raised this matter. The position is an extremely difficult one, and the lands of the tribes which were occupied one or two years ago—namely, the Amiri, Kotaibi, Alawi and Shaib, part of the Upper Yafa, and about half the Audali country—to all of whom we pay tribute—are still occupied by the forces of the Imam of Sanaa.

Two incidents have occurred, to one of which the noble Lord referred. In September last certain raids were made by the Zeidi outside the area which they have occupied, and warnings were dropped by aeroplanes in the principal cities on the Aden Protectorate boundary. As the noble Lord stated, in February two chiefs, or rather a chief and a friend of the chief, of the Koteibi (which tribe, as your Lordships are aware, formerly held the Imam as its sovereign, and now has given up regarding the Imam in that position) were removed. Kateba was bombed, and warning was given that if further raids were attempted further cities might be bombed.

The noble Lord referred to the trade routes. It is quite correct that the trade routes through the Amiri country are, and have been, blocked now for certainly two years, but other trade routes are open, although the levy of taxes being made by both the Imam as well as by our own tribes, naturally diverts the trade from the original routes. There is, however, another reason which is perhaps more cogent than the fact of the double levy of taxation, and that is that for the whole of the Yemen the Port of Hodeida is a very natural port, and has now passed by the removal of the Idrisi back into the hands of the Imam, and traffic which originally went that way has once more returned and goes out at that port.

I would like to say that the Government are just as anxious as the noble Lord to enter into friendly relations with the Imam, and I accept the statement which has been made by the noble Lord who asked this Question, that the imam, as far as we earn hear, and see, is anxious to enter into friendly relations with us. The difficulty, of course, lies in the fact that we have Treaty obligations with those tribes, not powerful in themselves, which are immediately to the north of Aden, and it is essential, even if we are not able to protect them to the full, that we should not give up any obligations that we have. The noble Lord views the position of these tribes, I think, perhaps, as being worse than it really is. Of these tribes that are invaded and held all the chiefs, with one exception, actually live on their own ground. Apparently their relations, except for occasional raids, are friendly with the Imam, and I suppose the position is similar to that which existed some centuries ago between England and Scotland, where there were occasional raids, but the countries themselves were nominally at peace. I am not saying that it is a situation which should be supported or should go on for longer than is possible, and as soon as we are able to come to any reasonable agreement with the Imam, which carries out our duty to these tribes, the Government will certainly seek to do so.

The Government wish to be friendly, but you have to remember what our obligations are. I think the bombing which has occurred—and this bombing was done in the most humane way possible; 48 hours notice was given to allow women and children to be removed and the bombing was done at fixed times—must undoubtedly have brought home to the Imam and his followers what are the possibilities of modern warfare. We trust that when a suitable opportunity occurs, further efforts may be made to effect agreement, but I would point out that nothing would be worse, as the noble Lord with his experience of the East well knows, and nothing would be more unfortunate, than for us on our side to commence negotiations without a clear basis of agreement. Further abortive attempts to settle by agreement with the Imam would certainly be most unfortunate, and the Government are not prepared to entertain them


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for the answer which he has given me. I agree that it would not do to enter upon negotiations which were likely to be abortive, but I do not see how the situation is going to change unless something is done. I think it is a corollary of what he said as to the taking of strong action by bombing and so forth, that you should at the same time let it be known to the Imam how much you dislike such action, and are willing to consider whether it is possible to meet his views by a rectification of the frontier. I believe in that way something might be arrived at, but I do not quite see what the occasion would be which the noble Lord imagines would be a favourable moment, unless the Government are prepared to take some action. The noble Lord has referred to these tribes as friendly to the Imam—that if you had any alteration of the frontier you would not be handing them over to a merciless oppressor.

With regard to the other point about Hodeida being the natural port of the Yemen, it is, I fancy, a very inadequate port. Aden has certainly been in the past a very great rival of Hodeida, but I understand that the Imam has now accepted aeroplanes and motors at the hands of the Italians, and I presume he is improving his roads, whereas nothing is being done with the Aden hinterland, where you have nothing except the old caravan routes, which remain as they have been for a thousand years or more. I thought it right to ventilate this question. It is of itself a very small matter, but it may lead to very important consequences in the future. I ask the noble Lord whether he is prepared to lay Papers on the Table. We have never had any published. All my information is received from outside sources—from private individuals and also from an occasional telegram in The Times. Otherwise we know nothing about what is going on. I do not know whether the noble Lord could say that Papers would be issued.


I think it would not be advisable at this stage to have any Papers issued. The most important point is Sir Gilbert Clayton's Report, and, as the noble Lord said, His Majesty's Government could not see their way to publish that at the present time.


I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.