Oral Answers to Questions — British Somaliland.

– in the House of Commons on 4th July 1935.

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Photo of Captain John Dickie Captain John Dickie , Consett

53.

asked the the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he will lay upon the Table the text of our treaties between 14th July, 1884, and 27th January, 1886, whereunder, on the withdrawal of Egyptian protection from Somali territory, the leading Mohammedan chiefs and inhabitants expressed voluntarily their desire to place their territories under the protection and jurisdiction of Her Majesty the Queen Empress; and whether he will state what negotiations, if any, have taken place between the governor and the inhabitants of those areas which it was proposed to transfer to another sovereignty?

Photo of Mr Malcolm Macdonald Mr Malcolm Macdonald , Bassetlaw

The texts of the treaties in question are contained in Volumes 76 and 77 of the State Papers, but, for the convenience of the House, I have arranged for a memorandum containing the texts to be placed in the Library. As regards the second part of the question, no such negotiations took place having regard to the tentative nature of the suggestion made by my right hon. Friend the Minister for League of Nations Affairs to Signor Mussolini.

Photo of Captain John Dickie Captain John Dickie , Consett

Am I to understand from the reply that the powers claimed by the Foreign Secretary for the Executive extend not only to the cession of British territory without the consent of this House, but also to the transfer of peoples, whom by treaty we have undertaken to protect, to another sovereignty, and further, what would happen if these people refused to be transferred?

Photo of Mr Malcolm Macdonald Mr Malcolm Macdonald , Bassetlaw

I have explained that, the special circumstances described were on account of the tentative nature of the suggestion made. With regard to the question of transferring territory, it would not be necessary to have the consent of the tribes concerned, but, of course, we were bound to consult their interests and their interests would have been consulted by us if the suggestion had gone any further.

Photo of Mr Roy Wise Mr Roy Wise , Smethwick

Is the right hon. Gentleman perfectly certain that we can violate these treaties at our own will without consultation with those concerned?

Photo of Mr Malcolm Macdonald Mr Malcolm Macdonald , Bassetlaw

There is no question of violation of treaties.

Photo of Captain John Dickie Captain John Dickie , Consett

Is it not a fact that the right hon. Gentleman has acknowledged that these people have not been consulted. Had this proposal gone through, would the British Government have been expected either to have left them to their fate or, by force if necessary, to have driven them out of an agreement voluntarily entered into?

Lieut.-Colonel Sir ARNOLD WILSON:

55.

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he took steps to ascertain the views of the Muhammedan inhabitants of Somaliland before assenting to the proposed transfer of territory, including the principal port, to another sovereignty?

Photo of Mr Malcolm Macdonald Mr Malcolm Macdonald , Bassetlaw

No, Sir. As has already been explained to the House, the suggestion referred to was a tentative one. I might add that the principal port of British Somaliland is not Zeila but Berbera, which was, of course, not involved in the suggestion.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Arnold Wilson Lieut-Colonel Sir Arnold Wilson , Hitchin

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether before giving his assent to this tentative suggestion for and exercise of the Royal prerogative, His Majesty's pleasure on the subject was ascertained?

Photo of Mr Malcolm Macdonald Mr Malcolm Macdonald , Bassetlaw

I understand that the information of my hon. and gallant Friend as to the circumstances in which such a suggestion could have been put into practice is out of date.

Photo of Mr Roy Wise Mr Roy Wise , Smethwick

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the intense feeling which was aroused on a previous occasion when we transferred Somali subjects, this time to the Italian Government, and will he take into very serious account the possible effects on all the native populations in that area if any suggestions are made even tentatively in the future?

Photo of Mr Malcolm Macdonald Mr Malcolm Macdonald , Bassetlaw

All those points were taken into consideration, and I would point out again that there never was any suggestion that any territory should be handed over unconditionally. There were certain conditions on which we would have required satisfaction.

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

Are there any other tentative suggestions of the same kind under consideration?

Photo of Mr Duncan Sandys Mr Duncan Sandys , Lambeth Norwood

Will the right hon. Gentleman make his statement regarding the consultation with His Majesty more clear?

Photo of Mr Malcolm Macdonald Mr Malcolm Macdonald , Bassetlaw

I am advised by a high authority that the position which was suggested by my hon. and gallant Friend with regard to His Majesty's prerogative does not hold to-day as it did in the fairly recent past.

Photo of Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy , Daventry

We cannot discuss the question now.

Photo of Sir Percy Hurd Sir Percy Hurd , Devizes

58.

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies what is the size and character of the territory in British Somaliland which was offered as an inducement to Italo-Ethiopian concord; how many inhabitants would have been affected; and whether any means were taken to ascertain their wishes?

Photo of Mr Malcolm Macdonald Mr Malcolm Macdonald , Bassetlaw

It was contemplated that the Port of Zeila might, subject to certain conditions, be ceded to Ethiopia, together with a corridor of territory roughly 50 miles long by 12 miles wide, linking it to that country. The number of inhabitants fluctuates according to the season; in Zeila itself it varies from about 3,000 in summer to about 7,000 in winter. There are no permanent inhabitants in the hinterland, which is only visited at certain seasons by nomadic tribesmen. As regards the last part of the question, I would refer to my reply a few minutes ago to Question No. 53 put by my hon. Friend the Member for Consett (Mr. Dickie).

Photo of Sir Percy Hurd Sir Percy Hurd , Devizes

Are offers of this sort conditional on numbers of people, and the character of the territory, or is it sufficient to say that it is under the Crown and that therefore certain steps should be taken?

Photo of Mr Malcolm Macdonald Mr Malcolm Macdonald , Bassetlaw

All the relative factors concerning the number of people and the character of the territory naturally enter into any consideration.

Photo of Captain Sir Peter Macdonald Captain Sir Peter Macdonald , Isle of Wight

Before making any further tentative suggestions on these lines, will the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues seriously consider the disquieting effects that such suggestions are going to make on the minds of native tribes throughout the British Empire?

Photo of Mr Malcolm Macdonald Mr Malcolm Macdonald , Bassetlaw

I can only repeat what my right hon. Friend the Minister for League of Nations Affairs made clear in his statement the other day, that one of the conditions attaching to this tentative suggestion was that the grazing and watering rights of the tribes throughout British Somaliland where they exist outside our territory should be completely guaranteed.

SEVERAL HON. MEMBERS:

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Photo of Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy , Daventry

We cannot further discuss the matter at Question Time.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Arnold Wilson Lieut-Colonel Sir Arnold Wilson , Hitchin

63.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether, in order to maintain the principles of the Covenant of the League of Nations, he will in future, in considering the transfer of territory from British to alien sovereignty, provide for the transfer to be made by means of a mandate of the League of Nations, thus ensuring periodical reports and supervision in the interests of the inhabitants?

Photo of Mr Anthony Eden Mr Anthony Eden , Warwick and Leamington

I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that in considering any such proposal His Majesty's Government would naturally satisfy themselves that the action contemplated was consistent with the terms of the Covenant.

Photo of Miss Eleanor Rathbone Miss Eleanor Rathbone , Combined English Universities

Is it the view of the right hon. Gentleman that he cannot better serve the principles of the League of Nations than by endeavouring to prevent war between two of its members?

Photo of Sir Percy Hurd Sir Percy Hurd , Devizes

64.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will give an assurance that in any negotiations with foreign Powers which involve an offer of territory, mandated or otherwise, the House will be informed before any such offer becomes effective?

Photo of Mr Anthony Eden Mr Anthony Eden , Warwick and Leamington

Yes, Sir, I can assure my hon. Friend that it is the consistent policy of His Majesty's Government to keep the House fully informed in such matters. My hon. Friend no doubt has in mind the suggestion recently made by His Majesty's Government to Signor Mussolini as regards the cession to Abyssinia of a small strip of British Somaliland, to which I referred in the House last Monday.

This suggestion represented an effort to reach an agreed settlement of a situation which His Majesty's Government regard with grave concern. It was put forward solely in order to find out from Signor Mussolini whether, should His Majesty's Government make a formal proposal on these lines it would be likely to commend itself to the Italian Government as a constructive contribution to the settlement of the dispute between Italy and Abyssinia. For that reason, as the House will appreciate, it could not be published in advance of its preliminary communication to Signor Mussolini. But, had the suggestion been favourably received, a full explanation of it would at once have been given to the House with opportunity for full discussion.

I would like further to make it clear that, had this tentative suggestion been favourably received, His Majesty's Government would at once have entered into consultation with the French Government as co-signatory of the 1906 Treaty, and with the Ethiopian Government.

Photo of Sir Percy Hurd Sir Percy Hurd , Devizes

In view of the speech reported to have been made yesterday by the President of the Board of Education, can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the principles that he has now enunciated will be followed in any further tentative offers of this kind?

Photo of Mr Anthony Eden Mr Anthony Eden , Warwick and Leamington

My answer is quite clear. I began it by saying "Yes, Sir" to my hon. Friend.

Photo of Mr Maurice Petherick Mr Maurice Petherick , Penryn and Falmouth

In view of the grave danger that this tentative proposal may be taken by certain Foreign Powers as a precedent, will the right hon. Gentleman make it perfectly clear that His Majesty's Government will not try to induce Foreign Powers to keep the peace by the transfer of British territory?

Photo of Mr Anthony Eden Mr Anthony Eden , Warwick and Leamington

Yes, Sir, but I would remind my hon. Friend that there are always grave dangers in any positive action.

Photo of Mr Herbert Williams Mr Herbert Williams , Croydon South

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether Signor Mussolini was informed that this offer was conditional on the assent of the people in Somaliland, with whom we had entered into treaty? Was it tentative in that sense?

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Arnold Wilson Lieut-Colonel Sir Arnold Wilson , Hitchin

66.

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty how many British-protected persons domiciled in Somaliland are serving in the Royal Navy and the Royal Indian Navy?

Photo of Sir Victor Warrender Sir Victor Warrender , Grantham

The number of natives of British Somaliland now serving in the Royal Navy is 142. As regards the Royal Indian Navy, I understand from my noble Friend that there is no information available in his Department, but if my hon. and gallant Friend desires, inquiries will be made of the Government of India.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Arnold Wilson Lieut-Colonel Sir Arnold Wilson , Hitchin

May I ask whether the natives of Somaliland are, in fact, British-protected persons or not?

Photo of Sir Victor Warrender Sir Victor Warrender , Grantham

The hon. and gallant Member asked for some figures and I have given them. If he wants further information, perhaps he will put a question down.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Arnold Wilson Lieut-Colonel Sir Arnold Wilson , Hitchin

The question asks "How many protected British persons are domiciled in Somaliland?"

Photo of Sir Victor Warrender Sir Victor Warrender , Grantham

The question was interpreted as closely as possible, and it was taken that what the hon. and gallant Member desired to know was how many Somalis are serving in the Royal Navy; and those are the figures I have given.