House Of Lords
Friday, 25th June, 1920.
The House met at four of the clock, The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.
Tredegar Urban District Council Bill
My Lords, with reference to the Tredegar Urban District Council Bill I make the Motion which stands in my name on the Paper. The Bill is late, but it has been delayed by negotiations which, I am happy to say, have now resulted in its being unopposed; therefore I think it reasonable that your Lordships should waive the Sessional Order.
Moved, That the Order made on the 29th day of April last, "That no Private Bill brought from the House of Commons shall be read a second time after Thursday, the 17th day of June next," be dispensed with in respect of the Tredegar Urban District Council Bill; and that the Bill be now read 2a .—( The Chairman of Committees.)
On Question, Motion agreed to, and Bill read 2a .
Londonderry Bridge Commissioners Bill Hl
Merthyr Tydfil Corporation Bill Hl
Cardiff Corporation Bill Hl
Moved, That Standing Order No. 143 be considered in order to its being dispensed with in respect of these Bills; and that the Bills be now read 3a .—( The Chairman of Committees.)
On Question, Motion agreed to. Bills read 3a and passed, and sent to the Commons.
Ministry Of Health Provisional Orders (No 1) Bill
Amendment reported (according to Order).
Ministry Of Health Provisional Orders (No 2) Bill
Amendments reported (according to Order).
rose to ask His Majesty's Government—
If they can now state the form of Civil Administration it is proposed to set up in Mesopotamia.
To state the number of officers now engaged in the Civil Administration; also the number of troops at present stationed there, British and Indian.
To state the expenditure on the British Exchequer entailed by our present occupation of the country.
To state under which Department of Government the country is now being and will be administered.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, as you are aware, the Questions appearing in my name on the Paper have stood there for some months past, but owing to various causes they have had to be postponed; and now within the last few days,—I may say almost within the last few hours—some, and those the most important, of the Questions have been answered in the other House. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships will regard the Questions I have put down more in the nature of the basis of a general debate on Mesopotamia, and a debate which, I think, ranks, and should rank, in importance with almost any of the many subjects with which we are now confronted outside these Islands.
I think it is especially important that there should be a debate in this House on the subject of the administration, both past and future, of Mesopotamia, particularly in regard to the fact that about forty-eight hours ago in the other House the Prime Minister reinforced the announcement from Baghdad by a speech on the whole matter. I greatly welcome the announcement that the future Administration of Mesopotamia is to take the definite form of an Arab Administration. I think that the announcement was in the end somewhat precipitate, not to say unusual, after the long effort that has been made to obtain information on this subject. The announcement, as I understand it, comes from Baghdad by means of a telegram read by the Secretary of State for India in the House of Commons, and that announcement was reinforced in the debate by a speech on the matter from the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister informed the country that the announcement in regard to the future administration of Mesopotamia was made at the earliest possible moment, that it was justified only by the recent decision come to by the Associated Powers at San Remo, and he urged that it could not possibly have been made before that date. I would say with all respect that this statement implies an extraordinary amount of credulity on the part of the British public. I myself venture to say that this somewhat precipitate announcement, whilst it may have been due in measure to the decision at San Remo, was also undoubtedly due to the persistent pressure that has been applied in this connection by the public and by the Press for sonic time past. And very properly so. Because, after all, this subject of the administration of Mesopotamia is one which, almost more than any other, intimately concerns the interests of the British Empire in the East, as, indeed, it affects most seriously the taxpayers of this country. It has been a subject which Parliament for months past has had a right to discuss; it is a subject which Parliament has now a solemn duty to examine.
The subject for examination divides itself under two heads: First, the administration of Mesopotamia during the past two years, and, second, the methods to be employed to establish the new Arab system of Government in that country. Each is necessarily interlocked with the other. I would like to make a few observations now on the past and present administration. In the House of Commons the Prime Minister, with, I think, rather assumed innocence but accustomed ingenuity, asked the House, What is the grievance against the Government in regard to Mesopotamia? He was puzzled to know what the case was; and he added, Ought we to have cleared out altogether from Mesopatamia? The answer to this question is quite clear and simple. The case against the Government—one which I say no rhetoric or ingenuity of debate can overcome—is this, that for two years they have established and developed a system of Government in Mesopotamia absolutely at variance with the solemn promises in the declaration of November, 1918, made by Sir Percy Cox to the people of Mesopotamia.
I will trouble your Lordships by quoting the words embodied in that declaration. They are as follows—
"Far from wishing to impose any particular institution on these lands, they" France and Great Britain] "have no other care but to assure, by their support, effective aid to the normal Working of the Governments and Administrations which they shall have adopted of their own free will."
However deep you may delve into the recesses of constitutional history based upon undertakings, you will find it difficult to discover any more conspicuous instance of a system of Government being established at greater variance from the principles underlying that undertaking than has been instituted in Mesopotamia during the past two years; and certainly never a system that has imposed heavier or more unwarranted burdens on the taxpayers of this country.
If I may, I will examine that position. still further. The Prime Minister contends that no definite steps of settled Government could possibly be taken in Mesopotamia before the decision was made by the Allied Powers at San Remo. I ask this question, What has been done without that sanction during the past two years? Something I venture to say, far moredefinite, something, involving far more interference and implying far greater responsibility than anything entailed in the mandatory system. To-day there exists in Mesopotamia what I think may be rightly described as a complete system of British Crown Colony Administration. I think it is worth while examining it, and I hope the noble Earl will deal with it both in regard to its principles and its details, because the Prime Minister in another place avoided, or rather evaded, it.
What is the Administration which to-day prevails in Mesopotamia? I have had the advantage of reading two Official Returns published by the British Government Press in Baghdad. I hope that these Returns, brought up to date and in certain respects made still more explicit and explanatory, will be laid on the Table of both Houses and published in this country. They contain much interesting information. We have been told by the Prime Minister that the Civil Administration in Mesopotamia has not cost the taxpayers of this country a penny piece. But what has it cost the taxpayers of Mesopotamia? A large and expensive establishment has been set up, as is shown by those Returns. The comparative table is still more interesting, because, whereas in 1918–19 the revenue was something like £1,250,000 and the expenditure about the same sum, in the following year, 1919–20, that revenue had increased to £5,500,000 and the expenditure to within a comparatively small amount of that total. I note that 419 gazetted officers are established on the list, almost all of them military and almost all of them British. Their salaries range from 450 to 2,800 rupees per month; 270 of them receive 700 rupees and upwards per month, and 60 of them 1,000 rupees per month. Obviously, these do not include the clerks and subordinate servants who, as your Lordships are well aware, represent a very vast host in British-governed establishments in the East. These figures mean that the complete revenue collected from Mesopotamia within one year showed a rise of 437 per cent. and the expenditure a rise of 490 per cent.
It is hardly to be wondered at, with this rate of increase, that the Administration, as one is credibly informed from a variety of sources, is becoming more and more unpopular in Mesopotamia. No wonder that one hears the whisper that Mesopotamia is calling almost pathetically for the return of the Turks. I should like to know—and perhaps my noble friend will be able to tell us—whether that is a progressive Return this year and whether there are still further increases on these abnormal increases between 1918–19 and 1919–20. What I say, with all respect, is that this system which I have outlined is nothing short of a travesty of the Declaration of 1918 which I have just read to the House. And I would like to ask my noble friend this question. If, as the Prime Minister says, before the Conference at San Remo he had no justification for interfering with Mesopotamia to the extent of setting up an Arab Government, in Heaven's name what justification had he for setting up what is in effect a Crown Colony system—I may add a super-Crown Colony system—at the expense of the Mesopotamians, needing to support it an Army establishment of 80,000 troops, British and Indian, at the expense of the British taxpayer to the tune of anything round about £50,000,000 a year? To make that the reason for this long delay is playing with words, as, indeed, it is playing with money.
I have no doubt it will be said to me in reply, What is the alternative? The Prime Minister says that the only alter native was to clear out of the country and leave it to chaos. I contend, and contend most strongly, that a system of Arab Government could have been, and should have been, initiated and instituted at the Armistice. My noble friend probably remembers—it is clear in my recollection—that two and a-half years ago it was urged by prominent members of the Government—I was in the Government at the time, and I strongly urged it with them—that then, when we were occupying the country, when the Turk had been turned out, a Commission should be sent to Mesopotamia to investigate on the spot and to make preparations for an Administration in the spirit of the Declaration made in 1918. The Government refused, for what I respectfully describe as the same specious kind of reason as is now put forward in connection with this Declaration from San Remo.
Now it has been done. I venture to say that had it been done then the chances of success would have been far greater than they are now; the feelings of the Mesopotamians need not have been alienated and a saving of many millions of pounds to the British taxpayer would have been effected. I note in the speech of the Prime Minister that he announced to the country that Sir Percy Cox has been selected to prepare a new scheme. As an individual undoubtedly no better selection could have been made. Sir Percy Cox has had a long and distinguished career in the East, especially in Mesopotamia and Persia, and he has an intimate knowledge of all the conditions of those countries. But I contend that it would be unfair to lay upon one man this intolerable burden of responsibility of framing a new Constitution. I believe that no one man can undertake it. Sir Percy Cox has had years of uninterrupted and arduous work, and to place upon his individual shoulders a duty of this character, with the conditions prevailing in Mesopotamia, is to ask him to discharge a task which is, I believe, beyond the measure of any individual, however distinguished and however experienced he may be.
It must be remembered that the situation is now considerably complicated. Not only have you a certain alienation of the community in Mesopotamia, but Sir Percy Cox, on his travels in Mesopotamia, will probably find himself confronted by a formidable and established official bureaucracy. I need not expand that point. You have this immense bureaucracy, and naturally those who are established within that system will not look with any favourable eye on a system which is a complete reversal of that policy. if this dangerous situation in Mesopotamia is to be saved, I say roost strongly that Sir Percy Cox should be aided and supported by a small and competent Commission. There is certainly no difficulty in finding the men for that purpose. I could mention straight off half a score of men admirably competent to aid in this particular work and conversant with the whole conditions of the Arab community. There would be no fear of delay. Far from retarding the proceedings, a Commission of this character would accelerate them, because to make a drastic reversal of policy such as will have to be made must take some time. It is most important that the advice with regard to the establishment of the new council, the new assemblies, and the new district councils, should be given by those who are most competent to give advice on the matter.
One observation appears to me to be obscure in the declaration made in Baghdad last week. I will quote it—
"His Majesty's Government, having been entrusted with the mandate of Mesopotamia, anticipate that the mandate will constitute Mesopotamia as an independent State under the guarantee of the League of Nations and subject to the mandate of Great Britain, that it will lay on them the responsibility for the maintenance of internal peace and external security."
Perhaps the noble Earl will be able to inform the House whether this means that the League of Nations is to be responsible for the external peace of Mesopotamia, to protect it against invasion, or whether it means Great Britain, because the reading to me seems somewhat obscure. If we are to rely on the League of Nations I am afraid that for same years to come it will be a slender reed. On the other hand, if it is to be Great Britain that is to be responsible for the protection of Mesopotamia, without making a comment on it I say that the taxpayer should at least know what he will have to face in regard to the maintenance of what must be a considerable force in that country for some years to come.
We have been told by the Prime Minister that the profits from the oil at Mosul is eventually to go to the credit of the people of Mesopotamia. I welcome that information, but I assume it will be some years before that oil is a profitable asset to Mesopotamia, and it is of importance that the people in Great Britain should know how many years they will have to pay for an Army to protect the oil before a sufficient revenue is raised from it to pay for the protection of the country.
I turn now to the military situation in Mesopotamia. I have put a Question down, and answers have been given on several occasions in another place, in regard to the number of troops now stationed in that country. It is difficult to get any precise estimate of the number of troops there. I notice that the Secretary of State for War, in answer to a question in the House of Commons, said that they amounted to 80,000 men—66,500 Indians and 13,500 British—and to these must be added, as your Lordships will be aware, the large subsidiary following, amounting to hundreds of thousands, which always are to be found in the train of a great Army in the East. I should like, if the information could be given, to know what is the rationed strength of the military garrison in Mesopotamia to-day. As far as we can gather—and here again I have no doubt we shall get information from the noble Earl—this garrison is posted in small units in many instances in remote and inaccessible places, and a portion of it is posted in North-West Persia. I would like to know for what purpose this force is posted in North-West Persia. Under the Anglo-Persian Treaty Great Britain undertakes to furnish financial and military advisers to re-adjust the economy and to help the organisation of the Persian Army. Does the Treaty impose the obligation on Great Britain to protect the independent State of Persia by a military garrison? In other words, are we to undertake for the independent State of Persia obligations such as rightly fall on our shoulders when we are protecting one of our own Crown Colonies? This to my mind is a matter of great importance to the taxpayers of this country, and I think they have a right to ask for information on it.
I should like to hear the noble Earl say that we are going to have a change in this policy of indiscriminate garrisoning of remote and inaccessible parts of the East. A time has come when we have to make up our minds as a country that we can no longer undertake to be either the rulers or the protectors of the whole of the world, and if we try, as we have tried so often in the last two years, to ineffectively undertake this protection, to my mind it is the most sure means of damaging our prestige in these countries. It would be much better for us to have no garrison there at all.
I should also like to ask whether the Mesopotamian garrison extends itself far, and to what extent, into the mountains of Kurdistan which lie outside the borders of Mesopotamia proper? I am told that there are many small units dotted about in these fastnesses indefinitely stretching themselves from Persia into this hilly country. I have heard it said by those who know the country well that the whole country of Kurdistan corresponds to the North-West frontier of India, the tribal frontier of India. The experience we have had in the past of placing small garrisons among these hostile tribes has taught us that it is very much better to withdraw these small units and place them on the line of the Indus. It was found that we could not place strong enough garrisons, and that their presence was only provocative and led to trouble amongst the tribes, and we therefore wisely decided to withdraw from that hilly country and protect our line in India on the line of the Indus. I have been told by those who are competent to give an opinion that the same policy should be carried out in Mesopotamia; that we should not place our garrisons a yard further than the plains, and protect the country of Mesopotamia on the plains below the hilly country of Kurdistan. I am told also that if that were done it would immediately enable a considerable number of the present force to be reduced.
Then I would ask this, because I am sure that every one in this House and in the country is decided that all conceivable steps should be taken to reduce the enormous expense to the taxpayer by reducing the garrison in Mesopotamia wherever possible—I would ask whether the force could not be more scientifically posted and garrisoned through Mesopotamia. Sixty or seventy thousand troops, which is at present the garrison, for a population of something round two and a-half to three millions, seems out of all proportion, and I cannot help feeling that if well and scientifically posted on the main roads the garrison ought to undergo a very large reduction.
I would further ask my noble friend whether he can tell the House what steps are being taken to organise an Arab army.
You want something more than an Arab gendarmerie, because the country has to be protected, with this dangerous flank on the North-West, from those tribes which are in the habit of coming down into the plain. What steps have been and are being taken to organise an Arab Army? The Defence Force should undoubtedly be, under the new scheme, exclusively local subjects of Mesopotamia, and it should be a voluntary force; and I hope that more active steps are going to be taken to organise and train that force, because so soon as that can be done the British garrison can be correspondingly withdrawn. There is something much more in this than the mere stationing of a large garrison and the cost to this country. There is also the serious aspect of continuing to garrison Mesopotamia with Indian troops. Indian troops are totally unsuited to the people of Mesopotamia. They come into conflict with them, and I am quite certain of this, that India in her present mood, and coming under the new system of Government, will resent and articulately resent being asked to provide a police force outside her borders. Therefore I hope that at the earliest possible date the Indian troops may be withdrawn from Mesopotamia.
I should like to say one word about the resources of Mesopotamia. I understand that the potential resources of the country are very great, and I venture to say that their exploitation in the future should in no way infringe the principle of self-government laid down in the Declaration. The well-being of the country must be a cardinal feature in the future government of Mesopotamia. The oil profits are to accrue to Mesopotamia principally. I venture to say that nothing should be done with regard to the development of oil which would interfere with the political development of the country. If foreign capital on a large scale were sunk in the oilfields of Mesopotamia, the owners of that capital would undoubtedly demand a higher standard of administration, and that would have a serious effect upon the steady development of the self-government of the country. I venture to say that this standard, whatever it be, should in no way interrupt or defer the self-government of the country.
Take irrigation. We were told that with irrigation a million acres could be brought into high production. But the same considerations apply there. The population of Mesopotamia is very sparse. It is difficult to get at exact figures, but I am told on good authority that it is something round 3,000,000. The construction of irrigation can only be profitable if accompanied by capital and a large immigration of labour, which presumably would have to come from India. Here again that would immediately produce conflict in the country, and the Indian coolie would be very ill-suited to be placed alongside the Arab of Mesopotamia. The creation of a mixed population would make internal peace and self-government in that country exceedingly difficult, and I venture to say also that here again India would deeply resent and refuse anything in the nature of a large emigration of indentured labour to Mesopotamia. It all points to this, that development must be on modest lines and parallel with the development of the indigenous population.
Another question—I am afraid I am putting a great many to the noble Earl—is whether any real attempt has been made within the last months to unify the control here with regard to Mesopotamia, or are the Departments continuing, as we have good reason to believe has been the case during the last few years to be masters each in their own household? Has one Department the control of both civil and military administration? It is clear that the Foreign Office, the War Office, the India Office, the Munitions Department, and the Air Department have all had a share in the enterprise and expenditure, and I am sure it is essential, even in the time that intervenes now and the setting up of an Arab State, that without delay Mesopotamia should be placed under one single authoritative control, with a consistent policy. Only in that way will this immense costliness and inefficiency be withdrawn.
I would like to ask here, if it can be given, what is the full total expenditure on Mesopotamia—the total of everything, so that the public in this country may know what the cost of Mesopotamia has been and is to-day. The aspects of the problem in Mesopotamia which I have briefly touched upon I venture to say are of the most infinite importance to our position in the East. Mesopotamia is a pivot in the Mid-Eastern position, and once you adopt a system acceptable to the people I have little doubt that you will secure peace and contentment, and that that peace and contentment will extend both to the East and the West of that country.
I pass from the administration of Mesopotamia, and if I may ask your kind indulgence I would like to say a word on what perhaps to the people of this country is even of greater importance, and that is our own economic and financial position in regard to our responsibility in Mesopotamia. We are now in the second year since the cessation of hostilities, and advancing towards the third year, and to-day we have imposed upon us an enormous current expenditure of £1,150,000,000. The attention of the Government, as one cannot help seeing, and the anxiety to a great extent of the public, appears to be devoted to the almost hopeless task of finding revenue to meet this gigantic sum. Each tax as presented by the Chancellor of the Exchequer is regarded by the public as so crushing in its effect on enterprise and industry that the recuperative power of the nation is paralysed, and the hope of a revival of trade is postponed. So urgent and absorbing has the endeavour to find revenue been that the real root of the evil, in my judgment, has received insufficient attention. The whole undivided attention of the Government and the public ought to be devoted from now onwards to the reduction of expenditure. Expenditure to-day is manifestly far in excess of the nation's capacity to meet it, and unless in the next six months a reduction amounting to hundreds of millions can be effected you are going to be faced next year with a financial position in this country of the utmost gravity.
It is not my business to indicate the various directions in which a reduction can be made. We all knew that they are manifold. Last night, in another place, a debate took place on the Transport Department, which is showing itself to be a perfect monument of extravagance, and, as experience is showing, is doing really little, administratively, in the direction of economy and efficiency Let me remind your Lordships that the annual expenditure this year is in excess of the expenditure of 1914 by no less a sum than £950,000,000. A great deal of that, we all know, is inevitable as the aftermath of the war, but there is vest scope for economy, and certainly pre-eminent among the sources of economy and in the very front rank among our commitments are those in connection with Mesopotamia.
What is the position at home, seriously accentuated as it is by this? I will take one or two examples as symptoms, and they are only one or two out of scores that could be taken. We see to-day—we are getting almost accustomed to it—that our hospitals in the metropolis are on the verge of bankruptey, and within a week or two of closing. A whole multitude of institutions upon which the very social system of this country has been built up are to-day in a state of insolvency, and in a short time will be closing their doors. I will give a small instance with which I am familiar. As Chairman of the Imperial Institute, an organisation which is useful from an Imperial and commercial point of view, I have been trying for three years to get a paltry sum of £15,000. We are faced with having within the next few weeks to close our doors because we have not enough to pay for the staff, and there is great difficulty in obtaining £15,000 for the maintenance of this institution. I merely give that as an example.
Let us look a little wider afield. The country gentlemen of England to-day are hardly able to live in their own homes. They are the very backbone of our social and political system throughout the country, and they are groaning under the weight of taxation to such an extent that many of them have had either to shut their houses or to undergo very great hardships. Again, we have a number of people of modest incomes—unearned incomes—who are reduced to extreme straits and are undergoing the greatest possible suffering. As Chairman of the National Savings Organisation I have an opportunity, perhaps above that of a good many people, of knowing what the feelings are of people throughout the country. We have 200,000 workers, and they send their reports to their committees, who, in turn, report to the Central Committee. The same answer to saving comes from the working classes, and indeed from all the classes who are asked to save. They saw, "What is the good of it, with the extravagance of the Government going on as it is?"
I make no apology for going rather off my beat and giving expression to what I may describe as rather straight speaking this afternoon. I think the times demand it. The irony of the national fate is this, that at a time when the country is passing through a period of the greatest financial necessity it so happens that it has the most extravagant Government in the whole of its history. The Prime Minister tries to pacify the country by saying, as he did in the House of Commons the other day, "It is fortunate that the war did not go on for another year. Had it gone on for another year £2,000,000,000 more would have been added to the National Debt." What an answer! What an irony in the situation that confronts us to-day! The Prime Minister possesses many qualities. Perhaps the most important, and in these days most useful, is the fact that he is very responsive to public opinion, so responsive to it that he is able to be flexible in his opinion. I would like to see him throwing the whole weight of the magnetic influence which he undoubtedly possesses in this country to-day, not in the balance of extravagance, but in the balance of economy. I am quite convinced that you will never get the present Government to take the initiative in effecting a real reduction of expenditure. The only hope in this country is that Parliament, the Press, and the public should combine in a crusade and compel the Government to economise. Only then will it be done. Only then shall we begin to see daylight. I hope that till that day comes—may it come very soon!—your Lordships will take your full share in the crusade in the public interest.
There are three points that I have tried to lay stress on to-night. The first. is that the existing administration of Mesopotamia is absolutely without justification, is dangerous from the point of view of policy in the East, and is far beyond our capacity, and that our expenditure upon it should immediately be reduced. Secondly, the policy, whether good or bad, in Mesopotamia affects the whole of the East and the position of the British Empire in the East. Thirdly, I would say that the administration of Mesopotamia, as we have seen it during the past two years, is a serious blow to the prestige of the mandatory system. Most people regard the mandatory system as probably one of the best results of the war. Whatever may happen to the League of Nations in the days to come, at any rate the mandatory system lays down a fine conception for the assistance of Governments throughout the world, and largely will be the death-knell to the policy of conquest and exploitation in the future. Fourthly, let me say that in all these matters the administration in Mesopotamia and elsewhere, where the public in this country are closely and substantially affected, no decision should be come to until Parliament has had a full opportunity of examination and decision in the matter. Lastly, I express the conviction that our future position in the East bears in a very large measure on the spirit and the methods by which we undertake the mandatory responsibility.
As a result of the war the position of the British Empire is greater than it has ever been. We have imposed upon us by our military conquests enormous additional responsibility. The victory that we have achieved in the great war is a victory for British Imperial principles. We have fought for the right of nations to self-determination, and for the democratic method of government. The war has brought many changes. Dynasties have fallen, political systems have collapsed, countries have been reduced to chaos, the economic and social conditions of millions of people have been altered either for better or for worse, and it is difficult for us who live in these days to see the full perspective of the vast issues that are arising from this great upheaval of the world. But probably the change that will prove the most permanent, the one that will exercise a greater effect on future history than any other, is the changed mentality of the world. We live in a new world. In a sense our whole outlook is different, especially those of the new generation. And this aspect must be appreciated by all, especially those who are directing affairs. Millions of men and women to-day have learnt to suspect, and many of them to dislike, alien domination, whether it be of a class or a nation.
It is therefore of the utmost importance to approach this task in the mandatory countries, not as rulers, but as teachers We are not asked to govern the peoples, we are asked to teach them to govern themselves, and that is the essential spirit that should actuate all that we do from the very commencement. It is of the utmost importance that the men who direct affairs at home and the men whom we send to undertake these tasks should believe in that mission, should have faith and patience to work to the ideal; and to realise the truth that self-government, though it may be imperfect in its kind—and it will be very imperfect in many of these places—in the long run will be a better and a more satisfactory form of government than a bureaucracy, however benevolent that bureaucracy may be. It is important also not to attempt in too rigid a form to impose Western notions on Eastern peoples, but, in the spirit of the best Western teachers, to encourage them to think for themselves, to build up a system of government consistent with the best ideals of their race, and therefore one that will have the sanction of native opinion. This I believe to be the only way in which peace and welfare will be secured out of the welter that we see before us. This is the only way that our trust will be fulfilled. And, finally, this is the only way in which we shall succeed in this gigantic task, and maintain, as we must, in our country economic and financial stability.
My Lords, the question raised by the noble Lord is one of the very greatest importance. We are incurring, as he said, very heavy expenditure in Mesopotamia, and the situation there at the present moment is far from satisfactory. We went into this war without any idea of territorial expansion. The Empire was quite big enough in August, 1914, and it was only partially, and, in some places, not in the least, developed. Now we find ourselves forced to take the care of another derelict country, and we should be unworthy of our past if we did not take up this new burden with courage and confidence. I am quite sure my noble friend did not mean that we should abnegate any responsibility that we have now assumed. I am glad that we have assumed responsibility for Mesopotamia, though I am afraid I cannot agree with my noble friend in his estimate of the merits of the mandatory system. To my mind—I hope I am wrong—the mandatory system seems to be only an ingenious device for facilitating intrigues against the British Empire. But I believe that we as a nation are more fitted than any other people to undertake the work of bringing back peace and prosperity to a country which has been ruined by centuries of Turkish misrule.The population of the three vilayets of Mesopotamia is not Much over 2,000,000 at the present time, and that is not much more than some Collectors' districts in India. But the area is at least 150,000 square miles, and, though the area cultivated at the present moment is far larger than it has ever been in any modern times it bears a very small proportion to the total area. It is quite certain that with irrigation and, in the northern parts, without irrigation, Mesopotamia can easily be made to be self-supporting, but the process must be very gradual, and it will depend, of course, upon the number of local cultivators who can be trained or fresh cultivators who can be introduced from other places. Apart from oil, which appears to be the subject of a somewhat sordid dispute at the present time, wheat, barley, and cotton can be produced in very large quantities, and in some parts of Mesopotamia without irrigation, and those are staples which the world is likely to want more and more, because, as we all know, the white man seems to be tending to betake himself to towns, and to leave cultivation in the country to the coloured races. To restore the lost riches of Mesopotamia is merely a question of capital and of labour, gradually and intelligently brought to bear. But a prime necessity will be law and order in the country. For that reason, therefore, the question of the Civil Administration is really one of vital importance. We have already incurred very large capital expenditure on railways, on making a great port at Basra, and on many other things required during the war. We keep a relatively large military force there, as my noble friend has said; yet unrest seems to be growing, and the recent loss of British lives at Tel Afar gives an indication that further troubles may lie before us. I believe the cause of those troubles is distinctly Turkish and Bolshevist propaganda, which is beginning to permeate among the Arabs of the Middle East. Arabs are peculiarly susceptible, as indeed are most people, to such a propaganda, and we have had up to the present no sort of counteracting measures. Immediately after Lord Allenby's very brilliant campaign in Palestine the Arabs, who were our valuable Allies during that campaign, looked upon us as their saviours, and we became for the time extraordinarily popular with them. But we seem to have played our cards so badly, in Palestine especially, that now the Arabs are ceasing to trust us, and there are even signs of a rapprochement between them and their secular enemies, the Turks. The noble Lord pointed to the changed mentality of the world. That is very true, and among those changes is a great national Arab sentiment, which sprang up as one of the effects of the war. It is a sentiment which is very strong, which is growing, and it is a sentiment of which we must take full account. If any great military commitments are to be avoided in the future, and if a stable political situation is to be attained, as is essential, I feel that what we must do is to set up an Arab State. In the whole of the British Empire there is no more prosperous portion at the present time than the Federated States of the Malay Peninsula. The four principal of those States are all governed by native Rulers, with British Residents at their side, and they are federated under a Council, over which a British Commissioner presides, which makes laws affecting all of them. That system has been a wonderful success; it has proved to be no hindrance whatever to the proper exploitation of the wonderful resources of the Malay Peninsula, and it has also proved to be to the immense advantage of the inhabitants of those States. As you all remember, the Malay States most generously gave a battleship to the British Navy during the war. I think we can learn from that experience in Mesopotamia. I do not know whether it would be possible to constitute the three vilayets of Mesopotamia into States with native Rulers with British Residents at their side, but, if a federation of that kind is impossible, then I think the only thing is to set up an Arab Government, with British advisers, and under absolute British control so far as its foreign policy is concerned, and I believe that that is the only way in which we can fulfil our responsibilities to the people of Mesopotamia. If an Arab chief of the Sherifian family, to which all the Arab tribes look up with respect, could be established at Baghdad, I believe that this policy could be carried to very complete success. But the success would depend entirely on the British officers appointed as Residents. I am certain that the Arabs perfectly well understand that they will never develop Mesopotamia by themselves, and that they will be perfectly ready to take the type of man we can send to them to advise and lead them to prosperity and progress. We in the British Empire happily possess that right type of man, and it is only necessary to look for them in the right way. In conclusion, the real crux of the situation in the Middle East at the present time is that we British people should regain the support and the full confidence of the Arab population, which I fear we are now in great danger of losing.
My Lords, I have some hesitation in intervening in the debate this afternoon, because I know that when a man has visited a strange Country and comes back and endeavours to give information to his fellow-countrymen he is generally presumed to draw rather upon a fund of imagination than accurate knowledge. But I hope I may be free from that suspicion this afternoon. Since my noble friend originally put down his Question the situation has considerably changed, and I hope that this change will be at once reflected in Mesopotamia: because at the present moment the people in Mesopotamia, both those responsible for the government and those who are governed, have been in a state of suspense. They have been waiting to know what was to be the future of the country, whether it was to be retained or evacuated; if retained, what was to be the form of government, and what were the limits within which that form of government would be set up. The consequence in Mesopotamia has been that the development of the country has been arrested, that trade and commerce have been retarded, and that the financial houses have hesitated to do anything more than assist such trade as was going on, and have not been inclined to assist in the future development of the country until they had more accurate information of what that future was to be. This has had, of course, a great effect upon the balance-sheet of the country. The movement of that balance-sheet has merely been on the expenditure side—the expenditure has been an unremunerative one, and there has been little revenue coming in. But I believe that this will now be changed after they have a knowledge of what is to happen to the country.In this country there have been two schools of thought with regard to Mesopotamia—the optimists who thought it was a Garden of Eden where everything could be grown, and the pessimists, who regarded it as a bare desert. As usual, I think the truth lies between the two schools of thought. Also there have been those who thought we ought to retain Mesopotamia for sentimental reasons because of the sacrifice of life which has been made there. Although I have naturally the deepest sympathy with this feeling, I regard it as a most dangerous one when applied to any specific area of country where there has been fighting; because surely we cannot in this be guided by sentiment, we can be guided only by the state of the national balance-sheet as regards our resources, both in money and men, which may be available for us to incur the responsibilities that are placed upon us in so many parts of the world. We must also be guided by the potentialities of the special districts under consideration. With regard to the first, we have not very much information; but with regard to the potentalities and the future of Mesopotamia, I personally have a great belief in it if we can set up a lasting and stable Government. I am glad to hear that we are going to set up an Arab Government there, and that Sir Percy Cox, in whom every one I met in that country has the greatest confidence, is being called in to give his advice. I think it may take some time to set up an Arab Government in Mesopotamia. It will naturally take time to form a Government from people who have had very little experience in governing; and there are difficulties and divisions among the Arabs themselves which will need some delicate handling. But I am convinced that such a Government ought to be set up with the least possible delay, that the speed at which it should be set up should be guided merely by the rate of efficiency which it can attain, and that nothing else should stand in the way of setting it up. Then I believe we may look forward to a future in Mesopotamia. Provided always that within the limits of Mesopotamia the vilayet of Mosul is retained. I am sure that if we were not to retain the vilayet of Mosul we might then go back to Basra, because you could not, in my opinion, set up a frontier at Baghdad. There is no natural frontier there. If you were to set up a frontier at Baghdad you would be depriving Mesopotamia of what I believe will be the richest there, and I do not think you will be able to relieve it of one man necessary to protect it. As my noble friend Lord Islington said, in the vilayet and the district of Mosul you have oil and also the greatest agricultural possibilities. The great impediment to the development of Mesopotamia is the want of agricultural labour and the difficulty of introducing any kind of labour. At the same time you have now going on in the country a most appalling infant mortality among the Arabs. We owe a great debt of gratitude to our medical men at present at Baghdad who, in the very short time during which they have been there, have with great vigour and energy endeavoured to cope with this evil by establishing hospitals, by medical research, and by the spreading of knowledge and endeavouring to induce the Arabs to come to the hospitals, which they are doing with the greatest success. But the result of their labours must take some time to become fully apparent. Therefore you have this position. You have a shortage of labour and, at the same time, the necessity for increasing the production of the country. The only way in which this can be overcome is by laboursaving appliances. In the agricultural districts along the Euphrates and the Tigris where corn is grown, it is very difficult to introduce labour-saving appliances except in the shape of oil pumps which are being use for irrigation purposes, and which the Arabs at the present moment are freely purchasing and using. The reason you cannot use such things as motors or tractors in those districts is that the system of irrigation cuts the ground up into such small patches. But when you come to the Mosul district you are in very different country. It is a rich and fertile land with oil in the neighbourhood; and there is coal, though I believe it is of somewhat poor quality, which is being used at Mosul, and more of it is to be found in the district. Here you have a place mosul suitable for agricultural farming on a big scale. Around Mosul there is a large virgin plain where tractors and other labour-saving appliances could be used. They have grown excellent crops of corn and of cotton, and they have recently made successful experiments with beet. Just as I was leaving Baghdad I heard that we were endeavouring to start an agricultural organisation at Mosul. Nearly the whole of the capital has been found by the Arabs themselves, on one condition—and that I think a very interesting one—that the managing director of the company should be an Englishman. The Arabs were anxious to obtain his knowledge and his probity and, through him, to be able to place themselves in communication with other countries to obtain machinery. A large order for machinery was ready to be placed in Canada. They were only waiting to carry on this organisation until they could find out what was to be the future of the vilayet of Mosul and whether we were going to hold jurisdiction over that part of Mesopotamia. Surely such an organisation—or organisations, for I believe more could be formed—. would be most useful in two directions. It would be useful in the satisfactory development of the country, and, moreover, there could be no greater factor for peace than that you should get the Arabs on the border to invest their money in agriculture and in the land and join together to promote such companies as these. I believe it would be one of the greatest influences for the pacification of that district. The Englishman who was found to take charge of this organisation, who had been a Colonel in charge of the Government farm near Mosul, told me when I saw him that he was most hopeful, if we still possessed that district, that the Arabs there would show the greatest inclination to take part in such organisations and to find the capital for them. I am confident that if a stable Government is established, there is a great future before that district. Before I sit down, if you will allow me, I should like, merely as one who has travelled in that district, to pay a tribute to the work which has been done by our officers out there. They are scattered throughout the desert of Mesopotamia far from civilisation in many places, and they have been living in circumstances of the greatest difficulty, not knowing exactly what was to be the future of the Government of the country. They have been living, too in circumstances of hardship, owing to the great extremes of climate, and of danger. I have not the figures, but I believe some eight or ten officers have already given up their lives, and for each post where the officer was killed there was always a great number of volunteers. These young men—for the majority of them are quite young—have been taken from the Regular Army, Kitchener's Army and the Territorial Force. They have had various trainings and various upbringings, but they are bound together by a desire to develop the country in which they have the greatest faith. They have also established—if I had time I could give your Lordships numerous instances—the greatest confidence with the Arabs, who have a great belief in them and who have relied upon them in the carrying on of all their work in the district. For their loyalty, for their zeal, and for their singleness of purposes, these young officials have deserved our gratitude, and—I am judging by my own ignorance of their work until I visited it—I am sure that if the people of this country knew more of what they are doing, the greater would be the gratitude felt to them.
My Lords, the noble Viscount who has just sat down blamed the Government for the long delay in coming to a settlement of these questions affecting the Near East. I quite agree with him. I believe that this delay in telling the various people interested what was to be their future has been most mischievous. If only there had been some definite policy marked out soon after the Armistice the present complicated state of affairs in the Near East would not have been so difficult to solve as I fear it will be now. The noble Lord who initiated this debate very properly laid great stress upon the extravagance going on in Mesopotamia. I look at it in this way—What does it represent? We are undertaking a work in Mesopotamia which we ought not to do, though it may have been necessary in the first instance. We know that, wherever we go to set up any form of Government, we try to level up the system of Administration to our own ideas. I certainly think this time that that elaborate Administration should cease.One welcomes the statement made in another place the day before yesterday that there is to be an Arab form of Government set up. After all, our greatest asset in the world is the reputation we have for good faith, whether as nations or as individuals. The noble Viscount who has just sat down gave a remarkable instance of it. As regards the Mussulmans of the world, it has been considerably shattered of late. We know the view has been taken that the Prime Minister's statement in January, 1919, with regard to Turkey constitutes a breach of faith, and in Palestine and Syria events are taking place which the Arabs think mean that we have again broken faith with them. The same Observation applies to Mesopotamia, unless we very shortly give them control of their own affairs. In order to get a general settlement of the vexed questions in the Near East. I believe it would have been possible for a self-denying agreement to be entered into by France and ourselves. France should quit Syria, and we should quit Mesopotamia, on the understanding that these two countries, if they require advice or officers to assist in the Administration, should apply to France in the one case and to ourselves in the other. But that has not been done, and we have to took at things as they are at the present time. If now we are going to invoke some form of National Assembly in Mesopotamia, I trust it may not be forgotten that all our negotiations during the war were, in the first place, conducted with the King of the Hejaz, King Hussein. Then undoubtedly, time after time, he was given assurances of Arab independence throughout Arabia and Mesopotamia. There were minor reservations as to Basra and Aden, and it was, I think, stated that Jerusalem should be regarded as an international city or something to that effect. Still it was to him that the doctrine of Arab independence was preached arid elaborated, and he and his sons gave loyal service to us during the war—absolutely loyal and perfectly faithful service—in the very darkest hours. Therefore it seems only right that if this National Assembly is set up in Baghdad so as, if possible, to arrive at the opinion of the Arabs as to what should be their form of Government in the future, it should be indicated to them that Emir Abdulla—one of King Hussein's sons—would be ready to occupy the position of President or King, which-ever it might be. I do not say that there should be pressure or persuasion, but it should be indicated to them that the whole question of Arab independence was determined by the King of the Hejaz, and it is only fair that any willingness on the part of himself or his family to share in the responsibility of the Administration should be made quite clear to this Arab Assembly. I have information that only a few months ago there was at Damascus an assembly of leading Arab notables and principal sheiks from Mesopotamia who, I believe, selected the Emir Abdulla as a possible ruler or leader of their country or their Government. It may be said that they did not represent the whole of the chief people of Mesopotamia. That is perfectly true, but it was a notable assembly of people, and it is worth while recollecting the facts I have mentioned regarding the part played by the loyal Arabs throughout the war. I should like to mention one point which has not yet been alluded to in any discussion about Mesopotamia, and that is the position of the Baghdad railway. In years past it was the one factor which almost governed the whole question of the future control of Asia Minor right into Baghdad. I hope that the noble Earl will indicate what is the position, or the intended position, of that railway in the future. It is a wonderfully constructed line, and it has always appeared to me that it gives us a chance of working in hearty concord with our French Allies. It should be perfectly possible by some system of dual control, with a free port say at Alexandretta, to work jointly this railway. I have been informed, I hope incorrectly, that it has been decided to build another railway across the desert to the Persian Gulf. It seems to me to be a mad idea under present circumstances. But the Baghdad railway is a well-constructed line, and I hope the noble Earl may be able to give us some idea of what is to be its future use. I congratulate the noble Lord on having raised this question. It is a matter on which we do want to put ourselves right in the sight of Mussulmen generally by trying to set up an Arab Administration (not expecting too much from it in the way of first-class efficiency) and showing sympathy with the idea of native administration in Mesopotamia which, though it may not come up to our high ideals, will satisfy the people of that country.
My Lords, I hope that the importance of this subject, which in my judgment is very great, will not be measured by the size of the audience that on a warm Friday afternoon has assembled either to hear or take part in it. Anyhow, the House has had the advantage of listening to several speeches delivered in each case by persons with expert knowledge who have placed before us very valuable information. We all listened with pleasure to Lord Goschen, who spoke with the advantage of fresh experience of Mesopotamia, and gave us some useful facts about the administration which is being conducted there. Lord Islington, if he will allow me to say so, made a well-reasoned and well-informed speech such as we had every reason to expect from him, and I do not personally' deprecate, though I was a little alarmed at, the steadily increasing number of questions with which he bombarded me for the best part of an hour. It really made me feel as if I were a witness in the box under the examination of a very pertinacious and very able King's Counsel. I will do my best to answer his questions.There is one part of his speech, however, in which I do not conceive it to be any part of my duty to follow him, and that was the part in which, having passed away from the subject of Mesopotamia, he proceeded in a wild canter over the economic field to deliver to us his personal views on the Ministry of Transport, the impoverishment of hospitals, the decline and fall of the Imperial Institute, and the difficulty which he and a good many others, including myself, find in living at our country houses. As he delivered this interesting disquisition I confess I thought the connection with the subject of Mesopotamia, was a little remote, and he must not, therefore, accuse me of incivility if I do not touch on that portion of his remarks. With the sound maxims with which he ended his observations I am in general agreement, but again it does not seem to be necessary for me to allude to them. What your Lordships will expect me to do is to address myself closely to the subject-matter of the Questions on the Paper, and my task, although it is by no means an easy one, is rendered easier by the fact that there was a discussion, to which allusion has been made, in another place two days ago. On that occasion there was raised a broad issue of policy—the general question as to whether we are wise or not, right or not, in remaining in Mesopotamia, and what is the nature of our general responsibilities there. That discussion—although we are supposed here not to know what happens in another place, and not to allude to it—is one which I expect every one of your Lordships has read, and at any rate it dispenses me from the necessity of saying anything on the larger aspect of the case. I turn to the specific issues raised in the debate by the various speakers who have addressed the House. Upon one point, to start with, I should like to be perfectly explicit. That is as to the intentions which have animated His Majesty's Government throughout—I mean the intentions as to the character and form which the future administration of Mesopotamia, if it were committed to our hands, should take. Lord Lamington, who spoke last, alluded to the first occasion on which the nature of these intentions was made clear. That was in the course of 1915, in the second year of the war, when we entered into engagements with King Hussein of the Hedjaz. On that occasion we laid it down that the British Government were prepared to recognise and support the independence of the Arabs within the territories concerned, subject to certain exceptions specified by King Hussein in previous comunications from him. The reservations, I think, were rather wider than the noble Lord appeared to remember in his remarks, because we laid it down that for the vilayets of Baghdad and Basra special measures of administrative control would be required to secure those territories from foreign aggression, to promote the welfare of the local population, and to safeguard our mutual economic interests. That was the first occasion on which our ideas as to the future administration of these territories, if wrested them from the yoke of the Turk, were laid down. The second occasion was when we had reluctantly, as everybody knows, but compulsorily advanced to Baghdad and taken possession of that city. A Proclamation was issued, drawn up by Sir Mark Sykes and myself—I need hardly ray that the greater part of it was due to Sir Mark Sykes—in March, 1917, in which we stated—
"It is the hope of the British Government that the people of Baghdad shall flourish and enjoy their wealth and substance under institutions which are in consonance with their sacred laws and racial ideals. It is the hope and desire of the British people and the nations in alliance with them, that the Arab race may rise once more to greatness and renown among the peoples of the earth. … Therefore I am commanded to invite you through your nobles, and elders, and representatives, to participate in the management of your civil affairs in collaboration with the political representatives of Great Britain who accompany the British Army, so that you may be united with your kinsmen in north, east, south, and west in realising the aspirations of your race."
That was in 1917.
In March, 1917, and it is clear from this that although the pronouncement was directly addressed to the people of Baghdad it equally applied to the larger unit of the Arab population of Mesopotamia. The third announcement was a joint Proclamation issued by the French and ourselves in November, 1918. I think the noble Lord quoted from it, and it is so familiar to your Lordships that it is, perhaps, unnecessary for me to read it out again this afternoon. Next I may mention, because the charge has been made by implication, if not directly this afternoon, that our recent Proclamations have been precipitated by the pressure of public opinion— a charge for which there is absolutely no foundation—that as far back as the autumn of 1918, when the Armistice had been concluded and the war was drawing to a close, His Majesty's Government had to consider here the conditions under which they would go into the Peace Conference at Paris.As is probably well known, the business of the Middle East, as it is commonly called, has been conducted on behalf of the Cabinet during the past three or four years by a body commonly called the Eastern Committee, over which I have had, the honour to preside and in which the various Departments concerned are represented. Before we went to Paris that Committee, on which. were represented the Foreign Office, India Office, War Office, Admiralty, in fact every Department concerned, drew up a series of propositions which were, so to speak, to be the dossier, the instructions upon which our representatives should work at Paris. Of course, it was not anticipated at that date that the conclusion of the Turkish Peace Treaty would be so long postponed. What did the Government say on the subject of Mesopotamia? There should be no annexation of any of these territories by Great Britain. It is the object of Ms Majesty's Government to set up an Arab Government or Governments of the liberated areas, and not to impose upon the populations any Government which is not acceptable to them. Whether there should be a single Arab State or a number of Arab States in these, areas is a matter upon which educated native opinion in the areas affected is now being consulted. Whether a single Arab State or a number of them be set up in these areas the support and protection of a great European Power will probably be found indispensable. If the inhabitants of these areas, acting upon the general principle of self-determination, express a desire that Great Britain should fill this rôle, the interests of the native populations, the part taken in their recovery from Turkish misrule by the Armies of Great Britain and India, and the security of the Indian Empire require that that responsibility should be accepted by Great Britain. Now, those were the principles, not, as I say, of recent discovery or enunciation, upon which we have acted throughout. But my noble friend comes here this afternoon and says, However excellent your principles, you have not acted upon them in practice; and he practically made the charge in his speech that our actions were inconsistent with our principles, and that a system of government and administration has been put in operation in Mesopotamia during the last three or four years which he even went so far as to describe as indistinguishable from the Crown Colony system. Let me indicate in a few sentences to your Lordships the kind of conditions which our men, military and civil, had to face when they entered the country and when they had to set up some kind of Administration. In the first place, as our Army advanced the retreating Turks did everything they could to embarrass the Army of Occupation. All the civil officials, who were without exception Turks, were withdrawn. Some ran away and others were forcibly withdrawn, and the whole of the records were destroyed at the same time. We entered into a country in which we found no such thing as corporate national life in existence. There was no form of unity, no sense of public spirit, and practically no authority; and meanwhile, after the complete dissolution and disappearance of the Turkish forces, bands of marauders raided the country from end to end. In consequerce the advancing British forces had to improvise administration as they went along. They had to build in many parts of the country embankments to protect the towns, the villages, the roads and canals, and the produce. As everybody knows, Mesopotamia is a country where what at one time is a desert is, when the rains have fallen, or the banks of the canals have broken, a swamp, and the amount of labour and superintendence devoted to preparing the country for the elementary process of agriculture was very great indeed. All the disputes that occurred between different sections of the populations came up for settlement, and had to be settled by British officers. The children had to be educated. The Turkish system, if it ever existed, had disappeared. The necessities of life had to be distributed, and we found hardly an Arab, owing to the sterilising influence of Turkish administration, capable of exercising executive authority. Not a single Arab in the country was able to be put in any position of respor sibility or importance; and not only was this a case of incapacity on the part of the native peoples of whom I am speaking, but it was a case of disinclination and refusal. Anybody who knows the mentality of Oriental peoples will at once appreciate that they were in their minds thinking of what was likely to happen. They would not come forward to help us, and their reasoning was this. "Supposing we hold aloof now and the British remain here, they are generous and will forgive us. On the other hand, if we throw ourselves into their cause now and the Turks come back, we shall suffer terrible retribution." That is what happened in the case of Kut, as anybody knows who has read the story of the executions inflicted by the Turkish authorities upon the wretched people of Kut after our people were compelled to evacuate that place. That was the fear in the minds of the local population. You can now understand how it was that whatever the instructions of the Government at home, whatever the sympathies of our officers, they were compelled in this vacuum to set up some form of Administration. What did they do? They set up that form of Administration to which experience had habituated them. They came for the most part from India, and they set up a form which was very like the Indian Administration. What had you to say against that? The noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, paid a very just tribute, if he will allow me to say so, to the unselfish devotion of these men working under conditions the difficulty of which cannot be exaggerated, and working for that country as if they were working for their homes in this land. That service cannot be exaggerated, and the utmost that can be said against it, whether you call it an Indian system or a Crown Colony system, is that the system is too efficient and too perfect. I think very likely that is the case; very likely they went too far. Let me give you one illustration of their efficiency. Every noble Lord who has talked to-night, particularly when he was dealing with the question of troops, has said, "What a scandal it is to keep all these troops in a country where there are only two million people." Such was the ability and industry of these officials whose work has been so much attacked, that they succeeded in the time which I have described in taking what, I imagine, is the first census of the country that has taken place for hundreds, and very likely thousands, of years. Whether it was the result of their beneficent labours or not, anyhow they succeeded in showing us the result that the population of Meso- potantia is 2,850,000. Let that at least be said to their credit. So much for the conditions. I have not, I hope, offered an apology. I have stated facts as to the conditions under which British administration was compelled to start in that country. Now I turn to the present constitutional position, about which a good deal has been said. It is as follows. In the Draft Peace Treaty with Turkey the independence of Mesopotama is provided for under the advice and assistance of a Mandatory, and when we met at San Remo a few weeks ago that Mandate—in accordance with the precedent set at Paris in connection with the Colonies that had been wrested from Germany—was conferred by a unanimous vote of the Allied Powers upon Great Britain. It is quite a mistake to suppose, as was contended in the House of Commons the other day and answered by the Prime Minister, that under the Covenant of the League, or under any instrument, the gift of the Mandate rests with the League of Nations. It does not do so. It rests with the Powers who have conquered the territories which it then falls to them to distribute, and it was in these circumstances that the Mandate for Palestine and Mesopotamia was conferred upon and accepted by us, and that the Mandate for Syria was conferred upon and accepted by France. What is the next step? The draft Mandate is then drawn up. We, as the party principally concerned, have been engaged in drawing it up ourselves. We then submit to the Great Powers who are interested in the matter, and when a provisional draft Mandate in this way has been drawn up we take it to the Council of the League of Nations. We have even gone in excess of what was demanded from us by the Covenant of the League. If you look at Article 22 of the Covenant of the League you will find that reference to the League of Nations is not obligatory. The matter may be determined by agreement among the members of the League. Lord Robert Cecil in a letter to The Times this morning is quite wrong in suggesting that the use of the phrase "members of the League" in the context means the Assembly of the League. If you look carefully at the Article you will see it does not. But whether we were compelled or not to go to the Council of the League of Nations, we decided at once and unhestitatingly to do so, and the draft Mandate now being drawn up, when it has been shown to and has, I hope, been approved by our Allies, will then go to the League of Nations for examination, criticism, and, I hope, of course, for approval by them. Under this draft Mandate, Article I provides for the framing of an organic law. An organic law is really a synonym for the future constitution of the country and the phrase employed is as follow.—
The last stage in this history of constitutional progress to which I need refer is the Proclamation which was read out in another place before the debate a few days ago. This Proclamation my noble friend Lord Islington said was precipitate, and had been suddenly extracted from us by the pressure of public opinion and by writings in the Press. Believe me, he is entirely wrong This Proclamation has been in existence for weeks. It was drawn up many weeks ago by the Eastern Committee over which I presided, and the only reasons why it had not been issued earlier were these. In the first place, there was some difficulty in finding time, in the congested state of public business, to get that consideration, discussion, and acceptance by the Cabinet which were necessary. In the second place, Sir Percy Cox was leaving Persia on his return home and was expected at Baghdad. We desired to consult him before we issued a Proclamation at Baghdad which would so closely affect him in the future. Those are, I hope my noble friend will believe me, the sole reasons why the Proclamation was only issued at the date at which it was issued. One word as to the interim steps that have been taken, about which some questions have been asked. Although a good deal of disparagement has been thrown upon the so-called Crown Colonies administration in the interval, nobody has paused to take note of the fact that every possible effort has been made to interest, to consult, and to galvanise into political activity the inhabitants of the country itself. Municipal councils have been set up where they did not exist in all the principal cities. Representative divisional councils have been started in the various provincial areas, and councils of notables, where it was not possible to get any other form of representative institution, have been started. During the last half year a Committee presided over by a very capable Indian official who was lent to us from Eyppt, Sir Edgar Bonham-Carter, has been considering how these representative institutions could be developed to form the nucleus of future self-government, and the Report of this Committee, which also has been in existence and in print for months, contains recommendations upon which we acted in the Proclamation to which I have referred. We then decided, in the interim period before the organic law to be drafted by the Councils of the League of Nations comes into operation, to set up an Arab Council or Cabinet, whichever you like to call it, the majority of whose members will be natives (Arabs), under an Arab President, and further to summon a native Representative Assembly to assist Sir Percy Cox or the head of the Administration, whoever he may be, in drawing up the organic law which it will presently be our duty to frame. So much for what we have attempted to do in the interim. My noble friend Lord Islington threw out a suggestion well worthy of consideration. If I quite accurately caught what he said on this point, he stated that it might be desirable to associate well-experienced persons with Sir Percy Cox in drawing up the future Constitution. I think that very likely will be the case. I would not like to pronounce too definitely at this moment whether it would be desirable to send out competent persons front here to assist him there, or to bring persons from there to England to advise us here. There may be a good deal to be said on both sides. In any case your Lordships may rely upon it that every possible facility for consultation—I am not speaking of consultation merely with British or Indian officials, but consultation with representative Arab opinion—will be given before the final organic law is set up. But the House must remember that until the Peace Treaty is signed Mesopotamia is still technically a part of the Ottoman Empire under military occupation, and that, until the Peace Treaty is signed, the new organisation of the State cannot, of course, come into actual being. Thus, I hope I have shown; you in this portion of my remarks that His Majesty's Government have never departed—certainly never consciously departed—from the principles which they laid down in the early stages of the war; that the transitional period to which I have referred has been due to no departure on their part from those principles, but has been due to the unfortunate, the deplorable delays that have occurred in negotiating the Turkish Peace Treaty; that we have no intention of prolonging, still less of perpetuating, this period of temporary administration; that all ideas such as those which Lord Islington seems to fear, of stereotyping a form of Administration which shall not be in consonance with the ideals or aspirations of the people, are equally foreign to our mind; and that it is our real policy to set up some form of self-government which shall be acceptable, with our assistance, to the people themselves. You will not expect me to expatiate upon the possible forms which that administration might take. The noble Lord, Lord Sydenham, pointed to the example of the Malay Federated States, one of the most successful instances of semi-native, semiBritish—more native than British—administration in the world. In another part of his speech he, and Lord Lamington I think, also suggested that you might have a single Ruler, either for the whole of these areas or for portions of them. That is not an idea to which we have ever given a negative—far from it. Indeed, in the earlier days, I might tell my noble friend— by the early days I mean two or three years agob—we did actually consult the people of Mesopotamia, so far as we could, as to whether they were disposed to accept a member of the Sherifian family, and they had every opportunity on that occasion of saying "Yes," and, indeed, of indicating a man of their choice, Abdulla or another. But they did not take it. Whether they have changed their opinion or not in the interval I do not know. I imagine that no announcement would be more welcome to us than if we could get a genuine and a general expression of opinion in favour, let us say, of a particular system, or even of a particular Ruler. As regards the proceedings at Damascus, my noble friend Lord Lamington, I think, has not been quite correctly informed. The body at Damascus which nominated, without his knowledge, the Emir Abdulla to the Kingship of Mesopotamia was a body of a very limited number of persons, only between twenty and thirty in number, Baghdadis who had been fighting with the Syrian armies in the course of the war away from their country, and who, although they were, I dare say, important persons, had no sort of representative authority to act for Mesopotamia itself. I only say that in passing to correct an observation that fell from the noble Lord. So much in reply to the questions that were put to me as to what we had been doing and what we are doing now. I now turn to the other Questions on the Paper, questions of rather greater detail, which were put by my noble friend Lord Islington. The first is the number of officers now engaged in the Civil Administration, also the number of troops at present stationed in Mesopotamia, British and Indian. The number of officers, according to the latest returns which I have, for March of this year, is as follows:—A total of 424, of whom it is fair to inform your Lordship that as many as 62 are medical officers, 54 irrigation and agriculture, 29 gendarmerie, 43 post, telegraphs, and public works, 29 judicial and police. And here let me say, in passing—because it arises at this point—with regard to armed forces, I do not suppose anything would be more welcome to us than the idea that in the future we should be able to constitute an armed force of the inhabitants of the country that is able to defend its own frontiers. So far as I can gather, the omens are at present not very favourable. The Arabs are a people not habituated to modern methods of military organisations. Endeavours have been and are being made to raise levies in the country—I am not certain that they have been very successful, but certainly that ground will be explored to the uttermost, not merely because it is a part of the scheme of self-government which we have in view, but because of the obvious relief which it would afford to ourselves. In addition to the figures which I have given there is an administrative staff composed almost entirely of natives of the country—these will be, of course, in subordinate offices with the assistance of a few Englishmen and Indian Mahomedans. The total of these is 316, of whom approximately 30 are Englishmen. Of the remainder the great majority are Mesopotamians, a few only are Indians, the proportion of Mesopotarnians to Indians being about 20 to 1. We have not got accurate figures of the old Turkish admini- stration staff which this body that I have been speaking about has superseded, but, so far as we can judge, their numbers greatly exceeded those which we have been compelled to employ, while, as to the standard of efficiency, I do not think I need in your Lordships' House institute any comparison."This organic law shall be framed in consultation with the native authorities, and shall take account of the rights, interests, and wishes of all populations inhabiting a mandated territory."
Have you the Turkish cost?
No, I am afraid I have not got that. Every effort has been made, as I am sure you will see, to enlist the inhabitants of the country, but there does remain, I must once again regretfully inform your Lordships, the melancholy fact that we have hardly found a single Arab capable of holding government office of any importance. Of course, as we go ahead and as soon as the régime of the mandate is introduced, the number of British officers in the country will be reduced, and we shall then hope to attract to the country men like those to whom I was referring just now—Mesopotamians who have gone outside and have been serving in Syria and elsewhere, but who, under the new conditions, we hope will return to their country.Now as to troops—the number of troops at present stationed in Mesopotamia, including North-west Persia. The number is as follows:—13,500 British, and 66,000 Indians. Here two questions were put to me, to which I will endeavour to give a reply. The first was, Why are any troops in North-west Persia required? I think the answer to that is very simple. I have not time to give a long historical retrospect of the circumstances in which, in the early days of the war, Persia being in a state of extreme disorder, being overrun by German agents, her frontiers being crossed in the North-West by the Turks, and threatened by the Germans, the position at Teheran being unstable to a degree, the dynasty being at stake, the menace to Afghanistan and India, which lie beyond, being great, British forces were compelled to enter and to introduce a certain amount of stability in the country. It was in these circumstances to shut the North-western door of Persia that we were compelled to advance our troops from the Baghdad frontier in the direction of Kazvin and the Caspian; and they are there now, not because we have any a priori desire to keep troops in Persia—no one would wish to do anything of the sort—but because their disappearance would simply open that door to an invasion, partly of Turks and partly of Bolshevists, which would in all probability bring the Persian Government very quickly to the ground, which would destroy almost in a breath the whole of the policy which we have been building up of agreement with Persia during the last two or three years, and which might re-act with a very serious menace upon the security of Mesopotamia itself. That is why we are there. Then the noble Lord asked, What about Kurdistan? And he drew an analogy, which I congratulate myself upon having drawn before, between the position in Kurdistan and the highlands on the Indian Frontier. Like him I do not for a moment want to extend our garrisons or influence or activities into the mountains of Kurdistan. We would like to remain in the plains; but, of course, there are many difficulties, and the principal difficulties are two in number. The first is that Kurdistan extends right down to the frontier road that runs from Baghdad towards Kermanshah in Persia, and as long as you are forced, for the reasons I have mentioned, to maintain this line of military connection, so long have you to protect it on the North. The other reason is a rather curious one. When we were talking at the Inter-Allied Conference about the future of Kurdistan, we all of us expressed the strongest desire to have nothing whatever to do with it and to sever the mountain districts of Southern Kurdistan from the river areas. But who was it protested? It was the Kurds themselves. They said, "We have been accustomed all our lives to be treated for administrative and other purposes as part of the Mosul vilayet. If you cut us from the Mosul vilayet you cut us off from our markets and our connections; you leave us to fight and squabble with each other, which we shall certainly do; and the only guarantee we have for our tranquillity is that you should continue to keep us in the Mosul vilayet as in the past." It was those considerations only which induced us to retain even a provisional and rather precarious connection with that country. Among the most difficult problems we shall have to solve in the future your Lordships will believe me when I say that of Kurdistan is not the least difficult or the least anxious. In addition to the numbers I have given, it is only fair to inform you of the situation created on the one hand by the existence in Mesopotamia of large numbers of prisoners of war, and on the other hand of the unfortunate Assyrian Christians, the refugees, who were hurled out of their homes in the mountains in the North and driven down to Bakuba in the Baghdad area where they are living under our protection. We are now trying to repatriate them to their homes. There are still at this moment under our charge 15,000 prisoners of war not yet repatriated and 27,500 refugees whom we have not been able to return to their homes, and four battalions of soldiers are required to look after those people. We hear so much about the British and the Indian garrisons kept in that country, and the cost of keeping them; but they are retained in one of the most humanitarian activities that you can imagine, and I am certain that on this score alone there is not a member of your Lordships' House who would deprecate the presence of our soldiers required for that purpose. I think one noble Lord asked about the Air Force, and undoubtedly it is our hope in the future that one of the principal methods by which the cost and the extent of our garrisons can be reduced will be by the substitution of air forces holding the country in the very much simpler and less claborate manner which is possible to them. The Royal Air Force personnel in Mesopotamia at the present time is as follows: Officers, 90; other ranks, 620; civil subordinates, camp folk wers, etc., 313; total, 1,023. I pass next to question Number 3— the expenditure on the British Exchequer entailed by our present occupation of the country. The provision in the Army Estimates for the current year is £21,500,000. This covers the charges under all heads of estimates, excluding pensions. No contribution is made by the Civil Administration to the cost of the garrison. The cost of the camp I named at Bakuba, and of the prisoners of war, is, of course, an aftermath of war expenditure, and no part of the cost of the upkeep of the Forces in Mesopotamia. As regards the Air Force in the future, one of our great air experts, Sir John Salmond, has lately been on a tour of inspection in Mesopotamia in connection with the proposed transference of military duties from the Army to the Air Force. We are now awaiting his Report. His visit was one of inspection only, and no expenditure has been incurred on sites for aerodromes or for works or buildings. Now as to the expenses of Civil Administration, about which I think something was said. It may be of interest to give the figures of the surplus of receipts over expenditure according to the figures we have available for the years 1915 to 1920. Surplus, 1915–16, £130,000; 1916–17, £270,000; 1917–18, £100,000; 1918–19, £189,000; 1919–20, £244,800—total, just short of £1,000,000. This really, if I may say so, is a good record for a new Administration set up during a period of military occupation and, I think reflects very great credit on the Civil authorities in Mesopotamia. As for the year 1920–21 the Budget figures are not yet available, but the estimated receipts show a surplus of £1,000,000 over the receipts for 1919–20. The last Question is, Under which Department of Government the country is now being and will be administered. Under the conditions which I have described the supreme authority in Mesopotamia is still the General Officer Commanding, because the country is in military occupation, and he is under the orders of the War Office at home. The Civil Administration is supervised by a Civil Commissioner, a very distinguished Indian official, who is responsible to the General Officer Commanding and who is supervised by the India Office. The noble Lord, Lord Islington, I think it was, spoke strongly about the necessity for unity of control here. I agree with him. The number of Departments that are somehow or other involved in the administration of Mesopotamia is necessarily very great, and we have endeavoured to provide for the time being for the unification which he rightly demands by the composition and meetings of that Eastern Committee to which I referred. During the time I presided over it we had something over 120 meetings at which the representatives of all the, Departments were present. I hesitate to say how many hours I personally and my colleagues devoted to the task; and I hope you will believe me that, although on paper it is easy to make out a cast, about over-lapping jurisdictions and conflicting functions, this Committee has operated very well, and, I think very successfully, in reconciling the various differences and paving the way to greater unity later. As regards the form that the future Administration should take, I cannot speak with any definite authority, because it is one of those matters which are still under the consideration of the Government, and upon which a final decision has not yet been taken; but I do find among ourselves, just as I find among the public who have a right to speak on the matter, a general opinion that it will be advisable, if it be found possible, to constitute or create some kind of special Department for dealing with those countries of the Middle East. You can group them together in a manner which does suggest, and indeed constitute, a certain sort of unity. They will be very much inter-twined with each other in the future—the countries from Egypt on the West right away to Mesopotamia and Persia on the East—and I think we all of us fed very strongly that to leave them under the æus of different Departments in this country is not a thing that can permanently be defended or entertained. I hope, therefore, that in some form or another a new Department, the constitution of which it would be premature for me to discuss, will emerge. I hope that there will be associated with it what, to me at any rate, appears an absolutely vital necessity—namely, a new Service for providing the men who are to administer these areas, and I think it will be found in practice that you will still want at home some coordinating body or Committee, rather like that which I have described, in order to produce unity of effort in this country. Now, my Lords, I wonder if I have answered all—I have done my best to answer all—of the Questions that were put by the noble Lords who have preceded me. One observation only have I still to answer, and that was an observation which fell from my noble friend Lord Lamington. If I could say straight away that at a given date we should reduce our expenditure in Mesopotamia, our garrisons in Mesopotamia, and our civil staff in Mesopotamia by a half or three-quarters, no one would more gladly say it than myself, but we have to look facts in the face and take account of the responsibility we have assumed. My noble friend Lord Lamington went so far as to ask, Could we not quit the country? Now, he is an old Eastern authority and he has travelled, if not in Mesopotamia, in surrounding countries, and I appeal to him to answer me when. I say that in the existing circumstances it is absolutely impossible now, straight away in the immediate future, to quit. You cannot quit, because it is an obligation of honour, of duty, and, much more than that, of expediency, for the present at any rate, to remain. If we retired at the moment, what would happen? I wonder if my noble friend has kept fully in touch with the events that are happening in that part of the world. Somebody alluded to the recent attack on Tel Afar. The fact is that at the present moment, owing to all those feelings which one noble Lord described as the ferment which is going on in the Eastern world, Mesopotamia is surrounded by a sea of unrest, anarchy, almost of chaos. You have the Syrians struggling for their newly-won independence in the North-west; you have the Kurds in the mountains on the North uncertain whether to remain under, or to break away from, the Ottoman Empire of the future; you have the extreme Nationalist party in Mesopotamia fighting for ideals which, at any rate at present, it is impossible to realise; you have wandering Arab tribes carrying on their traditional warfare; and, in the centre of all this, lies, like a little island of relative peace and security, the country administered by those splendid men whose conduct of affairs has been denounced to us to-night as Crown Colony Government. Well, I say it would be madness, it would be a derogation of our duty and honour, if we threw that away. I hope we shall get out of it. I hope we shall get out of it before very long. But at this moment to throw up the sponge, to beat a retreat, would be an act of which I think we should have every reason to be ashamed. And we have had experience of it. Our people, so full of sentimental desire to do the right by native populations in other parts of the world, have before now retired in circumstances not dissimilar from these. We went out of the Transvaal and out of the Sudan, and what had we to do? We had to cut our way back into both at an enormous expenditure of life and of money. And if we went out of Mesopotamia now there is not a man in this Chamber who does not know perfectly well that in a few years' time, whatever our desires or intentions, we should have to go back. Therefore I think I do not err in asking your agreement at least with this proposition, that you cannot expect us at this stage to give up for good and all the responsibilities which we have assumed. I hope the assurances which I have given your Lordships will have convinced you that the principles upon which we are acting are the same now as they were at the beginning of the war, that we have not consciously deviated from them at any stage, and that we are resolutely determined by every means in our power to carry them into practice.
My Lords, with regard to the noble Earl's remarks upon my suggestion that we might quit the country, I should like to say that I did not mean that we should do so until we had set up an Arab Administration. What I complained of was that this was not set up sooner.
My Lords, I desire to make a few observations in reply to the statement which the noble Earl has made in answer to the Questions put to him by Lord Islington. I am quite sure that both my noble friend and the House generally will be grateful to the noble Earl for having made so fall and so careful an answer with a view of abating, even if he could not entirely remove, the feeling of uneasiness which, as he very well knows both from what was said here and what was said in another place, has affected a large number of people in this country on the question of Mesopotamia, owing to the conviction, which I think is a general one, that somehow or other—it may be by a stroke of fate or it may be through a misapprehension of what ought to have been done at a particular moment—we have got far more deeply involved in the affairs of that country than was believed to be possible and certainly than was intended when we first went there.It so happens that I was the Minister primarily responsible for our going to Mesopotamia at all. The attack on Basra and the defence of the oilfields was the suggestion of the India Office in the first months of the war, and at that time I was Secretary of State for India. I do not believe that then—we all had a great many other things to think of—the exact future of Mesopotamia, in all the uncertainties of the war, was ever defined. One hope, I think, was entertained by a number of people in India, at any rate by some members of the Government of India, a hope which I am glad to say has not been realised and I conceive never will be realised—namely, that Mesopotamia might become thoroughly Indianised by the planting there of military colonies similar to those which have been placed, as we all know, in the Punjab. It was hoped by some people in India that Mesopotamia, or at any rate the vilayet of Basra, might become an annex of the Indian Government. That, as I thought at the time, was a complete misconception of what was possible, and I am glad to know that there is no prospect—it is made quite clear by what the noble Earl has said—of any such attempt being made. The noble Earl was, perhaps, in one sense somewhat hard upon those who have uttered criticisms on the transitional administration. I am quite sure that neither Lord Islington nor Lord Lamington, or any of the other speakers, meant to say anything in depreciation of the work or efforts of the officers who have been carrying on the administration there. All they meant, I take it, was that a method of administration, drawn up on too purely Indian or Colonial lines, was a dangerous beginning to the setting up of a Government to be conducted by the people themselves. In particular I am glad to mention Sir Percy Cox, with whom I have been associated and to know that his services are likely to be at the disposal of the Government for some time. I am quite sure the noble Earl will not have satisfied the House and public opinion regarding the future, particularly on the point of the military prospects there. It is a very formidable fact that there should be upwards of 13,000 British troops and nearly 70,000 Indian troops there at this moment, with no immediate prospect, as your Lordships will note—if there was a prospect the noble Earl would have announced it—of any substantial reduction in that number. That is a grave fact, and it is one which it is impossible for us to regard without continued feelings of un-uneasiness, partly no doubt on account of the terrific cost of maintaining such a garrison in a country with which, after all is said and done, our immediate connection is bound to be comparatively remote. There is also a feeling, with this wide frontier, including the vilayet of Mosul, the administration of which will be indefinitely entitled to claim, I think the words are, "support and protection," that in the future we may run the risk of having to maintain for an unknown period a considerable force to carry out that protection, with the possibility of the occurrence of "incidents," as they are called, which may at any time make it necessary greatly to strengthen such a force. That is a prospect which it is impossible to regard without great dismay, and I cannot think that those who are responsible for the Government of India, and in particular for the Indian Army, will regard with anything but deep uneasiness the propect of having to maintain what, in the Indian sense, is a complete Army commanded by an Arms Commander for an indefinite period in those regions. We come back to the fact as to whether it was necessary for us to occupy the whole of this vast territory, and whether we are wise in accepting responsibility for that territory in the future. Lord Goschen was correct, so far as my knowledge goes, in saying that the choice was between retaining a hold or influence over one vilayet or over three; that it was not possible, for geographical and strategical reasons, to say that we will make ourselves responsible for the vilayets of Basra and Baghdad and not for that of Mosul; that if the area of responsibility was to be reduced it must be reduced to responsibility over the vilayet of Basra up to Amara, and that we should refuse to take any responsibility beyond that. I fully agree that to retire now would be a matter of great moral difficulty, but, as I have said in the past, I often wish that we had never made ourselves responsible for the permanent occupation of Baghdad. The noble Earl will remember that Lord Kitchener was one of those who was in favour of advancing to Baghdad and withdrawing at once—a brief occupation, followed by a withdrawal—at the time the advance to Baghdad was first contemplated. There were and are various military opinions held in different directions on that subject, but it certainly was one of the foreseen objections to the continued occupation of Baghdad that it would almost necessarily involve a considerable further advance, probably including the whole vilayet of Mosul. I cannot help feeling that in undertaking the responsibility for the whole of this vast area we are doing too much. After all, the time is past when the people of this country will be prepared to play the fairy godmother to all undeveloped parts of the world, and to hold themselves responsible for introducing a higher standard of administration in uncivilised countries. We simply cannot afford it. We have not got, and no possible system of taxation that can be devised will enable us to get, sufficient revenue to meet the needs of this country at home. There will be, I am certain, continued discontent if, even with the high objects and lofty ideals which the noble Earl stated towards the close of his speech, we are compelled to no on indulging in a heavy military expenditure in Mesopotamia; and the noble Earl has not told us —naturally he could not venture to prophesy on such a subject—as to when there will be a real prospect of leaving that country, not merely to police itself, but to defend itself against possible aggression along its tremendously extended frontier. We all heard with great interest the concluding observation of the noble Earl about the possible creation, not merely of a new Department, but of a new service to find men to take their part in the Middle Eastern countries—a Department which, as I understand, would be equally independent of the India Office, the Foreign Office, and the Colonial Office. I confess that I foresee some difficulty in that regard, for this reason—that there may be some fear that countries such as Mesopotamia and Arabia, and conceivably also in the possible future Egypt, or at any rate the first two, over which we obtain through the action of the League of Nations not exactly an authority but the privilege of helping in the administration, may look with a certain suspicion, as possibly involving an undue degree of control, on the creation of a special British Service from which men are to be collected to fill posts in those countries. I can fancy that there might be some alarm lest the existence of such a service might almost postulate the undue creation of advisory posts, which in the minds of the inhabitants or the Governments of those countries might imply something approaching absolute control. That, however, is a matter against which it may be possible to guard, and I can well believe that His Majesty's Government may not find it possible in the future to draw even upon that presumably inexhaustible reservoir, the Indian Service, for all the men required for these new posts.
My Lords, I will not stand between the noble Lord, Lord Islington, and the House for more than one or two minutes. I only rise because I think the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, has taken rather too pessimistic a view of the early prospect of a reduction of expenditure and a reduction of the force in the country which we are discussing.
I am very glad if I have.
I will tell him the reasons why I think he is rather pessimistic. The large military force at present in Mesopotamia is always set down to Mesopotamia itself. I do not think we can look at the position from that narrow point of view. As a matter of fact, if you take the whole of our forces at present available in the Middle East, which is the centre of almost universal disturbance at the present moment, they are very far from being in excess of what we should in any case be obliged to keep up until not only peace with Turkey had been signed, but something like peace actually existed in those regions. It is not Mesopotamia, or the amount of trouble which arises in Mesopotamia itself, which is responsible for the necessity of keeping up these large forces. It is the condition of warfare or something next to warfare which is existing all around, and the condition of Turkey in Asia, the condition of Syria, and the condition of Persia. To none of these matters could we afford to be indifferent, even if we were not in Mesopotamia, or if, instead of occupying Mesopotamia up to Mosul, we only occupied it at Basra and the region immediately around Basra. I can see no reason why, the moment peace is really established in the surrounding regions, the mere fact of maintaining order in Mesopotamia should put any exceptional strain upon our military resources. The noble Marquess, I think, takes the view that a mistake was made in extending our authority as far as Baghdad or beyond it. My own belief is that if we are in Mesopotamia at all it will be found to be easier to control the whole of the country, including Mosul, than it would be merely to hold on to the edge of it at Basra. I believe the noble Lord who spoke earlier in the debate was right in saying that, if we are there at all, we cannot afford to occupy a country much less than that which includes the Mosul vilayet.My main object in rising was to beg your Lordships, in considering the question of the future burden of Mesopotamia, not to be affected by the circumstances of the immediate moment. I recollect so well discussions very much of the same character before, when we have first been drawn into responsibility for some of these backward Eastern countries which at the time when we entered them were in a very depressed or even bankrupt condition. For years everybody interested in public life in this country heard a great deal about the burden which was thrown upon it by its adventure in Egypt. Whether that was a wise policy or not, I am not discussing now. The point I want to make is that nobody could believe 30 years ago that Egypt was, from the economic and financial point of view, ever going to be anything but a burden and failure. With regard to the Sudan the predictions were even worse. It was never going to be anything but a ruinous enterprise for us. To-day Egypt, as we all know, is one of the most prosperous countries in the world, and though the main benefit of the immense economic advance of that country goes to its people, yet the indirect benefit to us in our increased trade with Egypt is very great indeed. It is exactly the same with regard to the Sudan, though there we have not got so far along the road yet. That country also is not only going to be very much more prosperous than it has ever been, but we are going indirectly to derive great benefit from what we have done for it, I believe that precisely the same will be the case in regard to Mesopotamia if we only give time. In the instance which I have quoted arguments were derived about the intolerable financial burden that we were undertaking from the inevitable expenses of the first years of occupation before things are got into order. Precisely the same is the case with respect to Mesopotamia to-day. We are told that this country can never afford to spend £30,000,000 or £40,00,000 a year on Mesopotamia. Of course it cannot. It is not spending that on Mesopotamia now. It is spending £30,000,000 or £40,000,000 on the end of the war. The noble Lord who introduced this Motion spoke of the war having been ended for two or more years. Certainly our great war in Europe has ended for a year and a-half, but war in the East has not ended yet. We cannot draw any inference as to the future cost of the Army in Mesopotamia from the conditions of the present time. We might draw some inferences from the present expenditure on defending the Sudan, a country much larger and in many of its parts much more inaccessible, a country which has around it barbarous tribes and a greater number of difficult frontiers than Mesopotamia ever will have. The expense of defending the Sudan to-day is between £1,000,000 and £2,000,000. I cannot see why a year or two hence the expenditure upon defending Mesopotamia should be any more than that. I may be wrong. I desire to make it clear that in my view, and I think in that of His Majesty's Government, the fact that we have at present this large force in Mesopotamia must not be regarded as any criterion of the force that will ultimately be required; and so far from anticipating that that large force will have to be in maintained there an long time, I think, given peace, that an enormous reduction of it possible very soon indeed. But if there is not going to be peace in the East a large Army, or a considerable Army, will have to be maintained somewhere there. It would not, however, be fair to set that necessity down to the difficulty of permanently defending Mesopotamia.
My Lords, with the leave of the House I desire to offer my best thanks to my noble friend for the very courteous and ample manner in which he has answered the, I am afraid, too numerous questions which I put to him in the course of my speech. I would like, if I may, to say in conclusion that I cannot help regarding with profound disappointment the fact that neither my noble friend nor the noble Viscount who has just spoken found himself in a position to offer any hope in the early future of a reduction of the garrison in Mesopotamia with a consequent reduction in the cost to the taxpayer in this country. That disappointment, I believe, will be shared throughout the country. I myself anticipate that if a reduction is not made, and made at a comparatively early date, the demand throughout the country will become insistent not merely to reduce the garrison but to withdraw from Mesopotamia altogether.
Official Secrets Bill Hl
Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee, read.
Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—( Viscount Peel.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
House in Committee accordingly.
[THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.]
Unauthorised use of uniforms; falsification of reports, forgery, personation, and false documents.
1. If any person for the purpose of gaining admission, Or of assisting any other person te gain admission, to a prohibited place, within the meaning of the Official Secrets Act, 1911 (hereinafter referred to as "the principal Act"), or for any other purpose prejudicial to the safety or interests of the State—
be shall be guilty of a misdemeanour, and subsection (2) of section one of the principal Act shall apply to prosecutions under this subsection in like manner as it applies to prosecutions under that section
(2) If any parson—
he shall be guilty of a misdemeanour.
I am loath to interrupt the silent course of proceedings on this Bill, and I shall not detain your Lordships for more than a minute. I do not differ in point of aim and purpose from His Majesty's Government. We are all out for ensuring the security of the Realm. I desire only to point out that in Clause 1, subsection (2), a new category of offence is created which goes very far beyond the sphere of espionage, or what leads by cumulative steps to other like offences. There is nothing that I less wish to do than to make it more difficult for His Majesty's Government to secure that amount of protection which was denied under the old Act, and which might have had serious consequences during the great war.What I wish to bring before your Lordships is this. In the second subsection of Clause 1 a series of new offences is created, and the principal one is that any person who is in possession of any official document, the return of which is demanded by a competent authority, is guilty of a misdemeanour. If he is guilty of a misdemeanour he may, under Clause 8, be severely punished, the penalties amounting to two years' imprisonment with or without hard labour. He is, therefore, in a very grave position. I do not know a single editor of a national paper who from time to time has not been in possession of official documents which have been brought into his office, very often not at his own request, and which it may be inconvenient to the Minister of the responsible Department should have gone out. Is it proposed that any man in that position should be liable to prosecution and be subject to such penalties? I do not suppose, for a moment that the noble Viscount, or his colleagues, would use, this Bill for any such purpose, but it is possible that in their place there might be Ministers holding peculiar views in regard to the liberty of the subject and the liberty of the Press, such as are openly avowed by certain sections of the Labour Party in this country to-day, and you cannot guarantee that such powers will always be reasonably used. I think the words in the subsection are dangerously wide. It would not be any proof of espionage, or any such offence that an editor had in his possession documents which the Department possibly had not wished should be issued, but which even those who might not have any corrupt or sinister motive desired should come into the possession of those responsible for political comment and criticism in the Press. I do not quarrel with the Bill in the least. I quite see it may be necessary, with the experience of the war behind us, to embody by way of Statute those provisions which have been found extremely useful during the war under the Regulations made by virtue of the Defence of the Realm Act. But I would ask the noble Viscount whether he would give me some assurance that he will carefully examine this clause, and, if he finds—because the Bill has to go to another place—that these words are dangerously wide they will be so limited, not in the least to defeat the object of the Bill, but to protect the newspaper Press from prosecutions which might be instituted, and of which they have a reasonable fear. I do not believe any editor would be safe if the Bill were passed in its present form. They would have to take out policies of insurance against this sort of prosecution, and I have not such unlimited faith in Government Departments that I wish to give them the sort of autocratic powers that have no doubt been exercised, in regard to publication in the Press, in other countries, which have treated documents as if they were inspired and sacrosanct. I shall raise no further objection, but I would ask the noble Viscount to give an undertaking that, if he has not strong reasons for disagreeing—because I can raise the matter again on Report—he will endeavour to find words which will give to the newspaper Press that measure of assurance which I think they are entitled to demand.
We are put in some difficulty, as my noble friend knows, with his Parliamentary experience. This Bill was down for Second Reading on Tuesday, and no noble Lords took any part whatever in the discussion.
That is very usual.
Therefore nothing led me to believe that there was any objection to the Bill in any quarter of the House. Moreover, there is no Amendment on the Paper now, and of these objections—important ones no doubt—I have had no notice which would have given me the opportunity of consulting with the authorities concerned. I am in a further difficulty, because the noble Viscount has not even tabled an Amendment now, so that I am not quite sure of what point he is dealing with. I suggest that the Bill should go through as it is, and then I will discuss with him and make strong representations to the authorities, so that the necessary limiting Amendments are moved in another place (because some of the words probably are rather wide), or, if he prefers it, he can move an Amendment on Third Reading.
I must apologise to the noble Viscount, but I moved no Amendment because I wish the Government themselves to suggest appropriate words. On the other hand, two hours ago I was in communication with certain expert gentlemen who advise the noble Viscount, and therefore it is not so absolutely unexpected as might appear. I should suggest to him that the words can be inserted on the Third Reading, if he would take that course.
My noble friend has asked me to say a word. I am sure the noble Viscount will see, that it is really a very inconvenient course that he proposes. Whilst this House has always retained the right to make Amendments on Third Reading, it is obviously a very inconvenient course that detailed Amendments to any Bill should be moved at that stage. The noble Viscount will see that there would be complete confusion between the two stages, and there would be no Report stage of Amendments. The matter is very complicated, and I am inclined to think, as a first impression, that the language used is a little wide in more than one of these clauses. I think that in Clause 1 (2) it might be possible to insert such words as these—
and so forth. There is one other later clause in which I have observed some equal vagueness in the drafting. If the noble Viscount will discuss these matters with the noble Viscount in charge of the Bill between now and Third Reading, it may be that one or both of them may put down an Amendment which will correct the latitude of the language."If any person, for any purpose prejudicial to the safety and interests of the State—."
Clause 1 agreed to.
Remaining clauses and schedules agreed to.
House adjourned at seven o'clock.
From Minutes Of June 25
Ministry Of Health Provisional Orders (No 5) Bill
Brought from the Commons; read 1a ; to be printed; and referred to the Examiners.
Fife-Young's Divorce Bill Hl
Minutes of Evidence and Proceedings before this House on the Second Reading, together with the documents deposited in the case, returned from the Commons.
Nottingham Corporation Bill
informed the House that the opposition to the Bill was withdrawn: The Orders made on the 15Th and 16th instant discharged, and Bill committed.
Coventry Corporation Bill
Leigh Corporation Bill
Report from the Committee of Selection that the Earl of Kimberley be proposed to the House as a member of the Select Committee on the said Bills in the place of Earl Bathurst; read, and agreed to.
Tredegar Urban District Council Bill