A Separate Ministry and Minister for Middle East?: Not Yet Warranted Lord Passfield Tells House of L
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A Separate Ministry and Minister for Middle East?: Not Yet Warranted Lord Passfield Tells House of L

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We have not yet come to believe that the creation of a separate Ministry and a separate Minister, a separate Secretary of State for the Middle East, is at all warranted, Lord Passfield, the Secretary of State for the Colonies said in the House of Lords yesterday in replying to a debate opened by Lord Trenchard, the Marshal of the Royal Air Force, who urged a unification of control and policy in the Middle East.

I would ask your Lordships for a moment, Lord Trenchard said, to picture in your mind’s eye Arabia. It is bounded on the east and south-east by the Persian Gulf. Then, on the south it is bounded by the Indian Ocean, on the west by the Red Sea, on the south-west by Aden, and on the north by two new commitments of the British Empire-namely, Iraq and Transjordan and Palestine. It may surprise some of your Lordships if you realise that this comparatively small part of the world is dealt with by no less than three Governments-the Government of India, the Government of Bombay and the Government here at home. It is also dealt with by six Departments. There are the War Office, the Admiralty and the Air Ministry. It is also dealt with by the India Office, the Foreign Office and the Colonial Office. Every little raid and I regret to say that for many years yet there will be continually raids by rival tribesmen-has to be dealt with by all these Governments and Departments.

In earlier days, Lord Trenchard said, we had no responsibility of Iraq or Transjordan or Palestine. Those places have been added to the responsibilities of the British Empire, and they lie right across the North of the Arabian Continent. We shall see great developments-we see mention of them in to-day’s paper such as pipe lines and railways across the district. Motor cars go now and aeroplanes continually go across and out to Australia, etc. We can see that that desert is going to be opened more and more, and transport will go more and more across this country.

I would ask your Lordships to picture that part of the world. thirty or forty years hence, composed with irrigation, with cotton, with railways, with increases of population. That part of the world will develop greatly. The Persian Gulf is vital to our trade if Arabia develops as I have said. It is vital not only as regards trade but as regards communication. I do not think “vital” is too strong a word. It is not only vital to one particular part of the British Empire; it is vital to the whole. It is on the direct road, the short road, from England through the Mediterranean to Egypt, India, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong and our interests in China. This is where the greatest saving in time could be made with railways, with motor cars and aeroplanes. What made us go to Mesopotamia in the Great War? Surely one of the reasons was the fear of Germany coming down the Persian Gulf and being on the flank of our communications. That menace has gone, but there is still a very great menace that must be dealt with. I do press very much the question of the control of this area. It is one of immediate importance to the Empire as as whole, and should be given consideration now rather than later. I feel it is essential that one Government and one Department should deal with this.


Field Marshel Lord Plumer, former High Commissioner for Palestine, Lord Lloyd, former High Commissioner for Egypt, Lord Stonehaven, former Governor-General of Australia and Lord Lamington, former Governor of Bombay all spoke in support of Lord Trenchard’s motion.

I know, Lord Plumer said, that there are arguments both for and against control being vested either in the Foreign Office or in the Colonial Office, but the main point is that there should be real unification of control, that the unification should be centralised and that, with that central authority, the threads should be held where they ought to be held, in the heart of the Empire.

I should think, Lord Lloyd said, that the Colonial Office, with its wide administrative experience in every part of the world, would be able to devote themselves to the administrative affairs of the Gulf and Aden, with less dislocation than any other Department.

I should have thought that the essential Department should have been the Foreign Office, Lord Lamington said. Arabia is a great block of country, self-contained, inhabited by a homogenous people, having one religion and one language, he argued. Therefore, if there is one area which could be dealt with properly by one Department it would Arabia. Lord Trenchard has shown how very difficult the present system of administration is. There is one feature in particular, he added, which has not been referred to and that is the question of providing officials who speak the language. From time to time we have had to pitchfork into official positions any one who could be obtained. I wonder that Lord Lloyd, having served so brilliantly in Egypt, did not make particular reference to that difficulty.

The debate has roamed over more countries than one, Lord Passfield said in his reply. We call the whole of the territory for short the Middle East, but of course the circumstances are very different. Aden, though it is in Arabia is different from all the rest of Arabia if only on the one technical point-which it is rather necessary to remember-that the fortress of Aden is British territory and in the British Empire, whereas the rest of Arabia is not British territory and is not in the Empire. Then attention was specially directed to the Persian Gulf, which also differs in status as well as in circumstances from the rest of Arabia and again from Aden. And Arabia itself, as we have been reminded, is bounded on the north by Iraq and Transjordania and such places as Koweit, with each of which our circumstances are necessarily different.

We cannot take up the same position with regard to Iraq that we can towards Koweit or Arabia or Transjordania.

We have still not mentioned Palestine in which we have a very special position, not the least easy to manage of all those that I have already recited.

There is a greal deal to be said in theory and from the point of experience for avoiding multiplicity of control. But on the other hand, if you are going to try to put all the organisation and all our communications with these various and very differing parts of the Middle East into the hands of one Government Department, under one Minister, you land yourself in certain difficulties. Arguments have been brought forward which would seem to indicate that some Lords think that the whole of these various countries should be placed under the control of the Foreign Office. Others have suggested the Colonial Office. It would not be possible in the circumstances for one Government Department, whichever is the best adapted for the purpose, to deal with all these different countries without almost constant reference to one or the other of the other Departments. It is certain, for instance, that if you placed the whole of the Middle East under the sole control of the Colonial Office, that office could not proceed a step in any serious matter of policy without the Foreign Office coming in.

As to the Departments concerned, we have now an arrangement by which they have an opportunity of day-by-day vigilance over all incidents. Apart from incidents which may be important, it is necessary that they should be watching because in the nature of the case in these countries quite minor incidents might develop into serious crises in a very short time. Consequently, we have to maintain a constant watchfulness on all the various parts of this Middle East territory, from Palestine, which has to be administered definitely as if it were a Crown Colony though under special restrictions and special requirements, to the other extreme such as the practically independent potentate of Central Arabia, Ibn Saud, and of course the other Powers bordering on the Persian Gulf.

We have now got an organisation, with the control in the hands of the Cabinet, which is working satisfactorily so far as so difficult a situation can work satisfactorily, Lord Passfield concluded his speech, whereupon the motion was withdrawn by Lord Trenchard, and the debate was closed.

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