HL Deb 03 December 1929 vol 75 cc829-38

LORD LAMINGTON rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether it is a fact that the Imam of the Yemen has sent a draft Treaty for the consideration of the Government; if it has been sent, whether the proposals will be now communicated; and what is the present position of our relations with the Imam; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the subject matter of my Motion has dragged on for a number of years. Since 1919 I have several times wearied your Lordships, I fear, by bringing this matter to your notice. I will briefly recapitulate what it is about. It is in connection with the Aden Protectorate or the hinterland of that great and important fortress of ours at the mouth of the Red Sea. The Yemen country was previously under the sovereignty of Turkey, and during the War Turkish forces invaded the Protectorate and took Aden. They were repulsed and many of them taken prisoners. Behind them came the Yemen people, or what are generally termed Zeidis, and they sat down in these protected States. Those States were not administered in any way. The only obligations on our part were to protect them from outside interference, and on their part the Chiefs of the State had to keep open the trade routes.

The result of the occupation was that the trade routes were closed and we failed to give the protection. So little protection had we given them that the Chief of one of the important States, the State of Dhala, thirty miles from Aden, was in Aden, and for a number of years we continued to pay him the subsidy which had been arranged for under the previous Treaties. We also paid subsidies to the other States who had failed in their obligation to keep the trade routes open. This continued till 1925. During these years we made verbal protests to the Imam, the ruler of the Yemen. Nothing was done in 1925, but we took rather more vigorous action in 1926. The late lamented Sir Gilbert Clayton was sent on a Mission to the capital of the Yemen to try to bring about a Treaty on our behalf. He failed. This extraordinary condition of affairs then continued till 1928, when His Majesty's Government took strong action, and, by means of aeroplanes, bombarded some of the forces of the Yemen and induced the Imam to withdraw his troops. I ought to mention that in 1928 he had made a big raid, and had actually the audacity to seize two of the chiefs of the other tribes and hold them as hostages. As bearing on this, I have given private notice to the noble Lord, Lord Passfield, that I would ask him whether any hostages are at present in the hands of the Imam.

The irony of the situation is this. From every source of information that I can get the Imam himself is anxious to be on friendly terms with us, and in our material interest I think we should have friendly relations with him. This being the case, one naturally asks what are the obstacles to some agreement being arrived at? I suppose the first one is the question of the boundaries. The Imam contends that the Aden Protectorate, and Aden itself for that matter, have for a thousand years or more been under the jurisdiction of the Imam, and that, as Turkey occupied the territory when the boundary was delimited in 1904, he was not responsible for it. Therefore he contends that he can disregard it. That is his main contention. It would never do for His Majesty's Government to reconsider the boundary so far as the western part is concerned, but the boundary was never thoroughly delimited to the north and north-east, where it was left in the air so to speak. I think it is quite possible that some adjustments might be made in that direction to meet the views of the Imam. I admit they would have to be small adjustments, but they might do something to reconcile him to the fact that we have this main boundary and intend to hold to it.

The other obstacle I understand is that he is very anxious that regard should be paid to what he calls his historical rights over the Protectorate and over Aden. I have done my best to examine his claim. It is very shadowy, stretching back to the year 1400, when Turkey occupied all that part of Southern Europe. The Egyptians came in 150 years later on, and then, finally the State of Lahej, which borders on the fortress of Aden itself, revolted in 1739, and has ever since been absolutely independent of the Imam. I mention these facts as showing that his claim is, in my opinion, a very nebulous one. I think most people who have studied the question are of the same opinion. At the same time, I imagine something might be done to satisfy his pride and prestige without diminishing our material rights or endangering our position. I would suggest that such a course might be found possible. Another obstacle has been that he has all along up to now had to conduct negotiations with the Resident at Aden.

Let me say in the first place that the Yemen itself is part of Arabia, and is the only fertile part of the whole of that vast promontory. So fertile is it that in former days it was called Arabia Felix. It is in fact the richest part of the country. The Imam himself has never left his dominion, and he has no realisation, or very little, of the strength of other countries. The whole of his people are cut off from western civilisation, and, not unnaturally, he may have a rather exalted and exaggerated estimate of his own importance. His people are mountaineers, very hardy and very good fighters, and, therefore, he does not like to think he is put in a position of inferiority. He probably feels that it is not putting him in the position he ought to be in by requiring him to negotiate with an official—certainly a high official, still not one of the highest officials so far as foreign relations are concerned. I think His Majesty's Government should invite him to send a representative to this country to try to bring about some Treaty. That was the course adopted in the case of Italy. The Imam sent his son to Rome, and a Treaty was drawn up. Accordingly I think it would be a very proper course to approach the Imam and suggest that he should send an emissary, with full powers to negotiate, to this country, or, if that is considered too far away, to Cairo or some nearer place. If this was done I think his not unnatural soreness in this respect might be removed. Italy has a Treaty with the Imam, so has Russia, and German and American influences are making themselves very much felt in that district. It does seem a pity that we, who are his next-door neighbours and have the greatest interest in being on friendly terms with him, should not be in direct relations with him.

Our trade in the past—I do not know what it is to-day—has undoubtedly suffered from the fact of the trade routes having been closed, and the trade of the Yemen itself has been diverted to Hodeida and other Red Sea ports. I may add that the Imam has been referred to in a Despatch or in some communication, as nothing better than a brigand chief. That is a most inaccurate and improper description to apply to him. Naturally he felt umbrage at that and also at the fact that we handed over Hodeida to his rival, the head of the Idrisi tribe. I do therefore hope that the noble Lord who replies for His Majesty's Government will be able to say that there are some negotiations going on now, or that something has been accomplished or that there is something which may bear fruit in the near future, and that there is likelihood of an understanding or a Treaty being arrived at with the Imam and his people. I beg to move.


My Lords, before the noble Lord answers the Question, may I say that a situation has arisen now which we had always hoped would have been realised a year or two years ago. That is to say, it is believed that the Imam has now come forward with the idea of putting before us a Treaty. I do not think Lord Lamington in any way exaggerated the importance of the country or the importance locally of the Imam. This is an area with anything from three to four million inhabitants, with a very enlightened Chief who wishes to open trade with us. It is a rich land—the Arabia Felix of the past—containing some enormous broken dams which could be repaired and might make a really fertile country of the land at the present time. It is supposed to be very rich in mineral resources and it is known to have some very valuable oil wells as well. I understand that the Imam wishes particularly to trade with us. He believes that we are people of our word, he believes that we will make good any Treaty we make with him, and from what I learn—I admit from unofficial sources—he is dissatisfied with the treatment he has received from certain other rival Powers, if I may so call them.

We must remember that this great Chief, with power over three or four million men, is not a man who wishes to be dealt with as a subordinate. We must also admit that if he has done what we have asked him to, that is to put forward offers of a Treaty, we ought to regard what he puts forward, not from the narrow point of view, but from the large point of view, with the object of coming to terms if possible. There are certain claims of his which are particularly difficult to get over. His powers date five or six centuries back and he is particularly loth to lose them because he feels that then he would lose prestige with his own supporters, who, as Lord Lamington said, are fighting men of the first quality. So high is their quality that, as your Lordships know, the Turks, when they had command of that area, always left that portion of Arabia alone. I would, therefore, suggest, as Lord Lamington has said, that his views should be regarded most seriously by His Majesty's Government and that negotiations should take place, if possible, in this country rather than in the Government of Bombay.


My Lords, I only want to say a very few words to support what has been said by the two noble Lords who have just spoken. Lord Lamington has brought this subject before your Lordships' House on several occasions and I feel sure your Lordships will be grateful to him for having done so. There is no question whatever, I think, that this little known part of the world is a very important one, as Lord Lovat has pointed out. The late Government did its best to come to an agreement, but at that time the Imam was apparently, from one cause or another, unwilling to do so. Therefore, if the present Government are in the happy position of finding him in changed mind and willing now to make a Treaty, I hope that they will do their utmost to come to an agreement with him. If that can be done, either by asking him to send a representative to this country or to Cairo, or by sending someone to him in his own capital, I hope the Government will do so, and give our official sufficiently wide powers to come to an agreement, if that is at all possible.

There is one other point which has not been raised. I understand that the Imam is still occupying some of the territory which we believe to be within our Protectorate. There is a tribe called the Audali, part of whose territory lies on a high plateau. That territory is still occupied by a tribe which is not friendly either to the Audali or to us. I trust the Government will be able to free that tribe so that they may return to their land at the top of the plateau, which, of course, is the most valuable that they have. Further, now that the defence of Aden has been handed over to the Royal Air Force the only ground troops there are native levies. The best type of levy comes apparently from the tribe of the Audali and the one next door. It is quite obvious, therefore, that it would be impossible to get the best type of troops for our levies if these tribes remain outside the British Protectorate and under the control of someone else. I hope, for all these reasons, that the Government may be more fortunate than we in coming to an agreement with the Imam and bringing this question which has been postponed for so long to a satisfactory conclusion.


My Lords, let me say at once that so far as the Government are concerned we are distinctly desirous of concluding a Treaty with the Imam as soon as possible. Some of the obstacles which stood in the way before seem to have been removed. I am told that the Imam has evacuated all territories forming part of the Aden Protectorate except possibly for a small encroachment about which we are not quite definite. It is a question of disputed boundaries. I am stating that for perfect accuracy; but substantially, I am informed, all the territory forming part of the Aden Protectorate has now been evacuated by those responsible to the Imam with that possible small exception where the boundary is not quite clear and is in dispute. At the present time, also, so far as we are aware, the Imam holds no hostages from the tribes of the Aden Protectorate at all, so that those two obstacles have been cleared out of the way.

With regard to the change of opinion of the Imam and his desire to enter into a Treaty, we are inclined to believe that this is true, but we have not any very official information on that subject. What happened was that last July the Resident of Aden reported that he had received a document in the form of the heads of a Treaty with the Imam. He had not received this from any official of the Imam or from any person deputed by the Imam. It had been handed to him by a British subject who had been on a visit to Sanaa, but who had no official position and appears to have had no authority to discuss political matters with the Imam or to enter into negotiations with His Majesty's Government. Accordingly we cannot be quite sure that this represents an actual proposition by the Imam, although it may be taken to indicate that the Imam is not now unwilling to enter into a Treaty. An immediate reply was sent recognising it as the desire of the Imam to enter into negotiations for a Treaty, and the Resident was authorised to inform the Imam that His Majesty's Government were prepared to resume negotiations for a general Treaty on the basis of the general conditions put forward by Sir Gilbert Clayton in the course of a visit to Sanaa in 1926, and to ask for the appointment of a duly accredited official negotiator with whom His Majesty's Government could deal.

We have not heard yet of any result from this communication, but the Government will certainly not be backward in responding to what appeared to be a communication from the Imam, even if it came in rather an irregular form. In response to that apparent communication from the Imam, the Government at once took steps to indicate their own willingness to resume negotiations and to suggest that a definite official negotiator should be appointed. We have not heard of any result of that at present, but we shall not let the question rest and we shall certainly take steps to follow it up in one form or another if we do not have a further reply. I am sorry to say that in other respects the position remains very much the same as was indicated in the reply that was given by my predecessor on March 20 last. With regard to the suggestion that has been made that some alteration of boundary in favour of the Imam might be considered, I can only say that I note the suggestion, but it does not appear to be quite a happy way of entering into negotiations with even so great a potentate—


With regard to the north-eastern portion only.


Well, with regard to any portion. The Government would not necessarily refuse to consider anything that was put forward and that had a reasonable basis, but it is not for us to begin to suggest it, nor could we, I think, contemplate any reassertion of the claim over Aden itself or over the Protectorate. There is, I imagine, a Statute of Limitations with regard to any such claims, and I do not know what could be conceded to the dignity of the Imam which would not affect our material rights. All I can say is that I should hope we should conduct ourselves with complete politeness and respect to any independent potentate, and not the less if he were as important and as ancient as this gentleman apparently is. Summing up my reply: We have had some evidence of the desire of the Imam to enter into negotiations; we have at once responded with as wide a response as seemed suitable at the moment; and, if no rejoinder reaches us shortly, we will consider what steps we can take to follow up the matter with a view to obtaining a regular Treaty with this independent Sovereign which should promote an increase of trade with him and his people. That is the state of things as it is at present. I certainly will not fail to watch the position and to see what can be done to take advantage of any evinced desire on the part of the Imam to enter into negotiations. Of course, in these negotiations we must wait to be approached. While we can respond at once tactfully and courteously to any approach, I think we must be a little slow before we actually go out of our way to invite the Imam to enter into a Treaty such as we wish to see.


My Lords, the reply of the noble Lord is satisfactory in so far as we have departed—I am glad to flee this—from any idea of strict officialdom in not turning down altogether the overture made by the Imam, I think in July last. I am also glad to hear the assurance given by the noble Lord himself that he is going to turn a sympathetic ear to any approaches or views expressed as to coming to some agreement with the Imam. Otherwise I really do not see that any very great advance has been made towards an adjustment. I understood the noble Lord to say that, in the reply to the Imam, the basis of the Treaty was taken to be the proposal made by Sir Gilbert Clayton. Obviously he would not have had that in 1926, and I do not suppose that his view is likely to be easier in that respect to-day. The noble Lord did not say much about my suggestion that the Imam should be asked to send a representative to this country.

Let me read a quotation from an article which appeared some time ago in The Times regarding the importance that Oriental potentates attach to their dignity and prestige. It runs as follows:— This is a readily intelligible point of dignity and sentiment and, as such, is a matter of the highest importance in the eyes of the Arabs, for one and all of the independent rulers resent any suggestion of patronage and protest that it is an affront to their dignity and international status to receive communications from the Middle East Department of the Colonial Office, which deals with the Mandated States of Iraq and the Transjordan. They maintain that his Britannic Majesty should deal with them through that Department which is in charge of his relations with foreign Powers. The article continues in that sense, and I quote it, not merely as my own opinion but that, I think, of anybody who has paid attention to this question in the East. Such people will know what weight these potentates attach to being treated with full recognition of their dignity and prestige. I hope that the noble Lord will keep this in mind.

At the same time I quite agree with the reply made to me two years ago by Lord Lovat to the effect that there should be no attempt to enter into a Treaty unless it were pretty well certain that we were going to carry it through. There have been two abortive attempts and it would be a pity to have a third. Last July, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, said, speaking on the Second Reading of the Government of India (Aden) Bill:— The decision of the Cabinet was threefold. It transferred the political responsibility for Aden to the Colonial Office; it transferred military control of Aden to the Air Ministry; and it left the civil administration of the Settlement as before under the Government of India. There you have three different Departments to deal with the unfortunate Protectorate of Aden. No wonder that there is some confusion and that very little has been done. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.