§ 3.47 p.m.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
In selecting the subject for Debate on the Motion for the Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill, I have on this occasion taken a question which is exercising Members in all parts of the House, which is of considerable urgency, and which is of great importance to the future of the Empire. It is the question of the proposal of His Majesty's Government to grant the Constitution to the Mandated Territory of Palestine by Orders in Council. At the present, time humanity is faced by two crises. One of these we discuss daily—the danger from dictators—and the other, which is allied thereto, is the awful fate of the Jews. Humanity and civilisation rebel as bombs continue to be dropped upon Abyssinians, and the Jews continue to be starved out and robbed and none will give them shelter. We are faced with the problem of the outcasting of the whole race. The Jewish race at the present time are acclimatising themselves to being classed as outcasts, and this must not go on without humanity and civilisation having something to say in the matter. As in the days of old the lepers used to move about crying "Unclean, unclean," and ringing a bell, so that the rest of mankind could avoid their presence, so now we are driving 15,000,000 civilised people into exactly the same position as those lepers. As they pass through the streets of Europe to-day mankind draws away from the hem of their raiment so as not to be contaminated.
I have spoken of our present-day civilisation having gone back to the fourteenth century. It has gone back much further than that. It starts with the child of six. When it first leaves its mother's house and goes out into the streets of Europe to-day it finds that the Jews are the enemies of the world. The birthright of childhood, a universal birthright, whether in Africa, Asia or Europe, 1080 has come to an end. The child falls down; there is no one to pick it up. Instead, it is kicked. This starts at six years of age, and for the rest of its unfortunate life the same deadly lesson is ground into it at every turn: it is the enemy of the human race, an outlaw who may be hit and robbed, deprived of its rights to race and home, driven out of its country—you are a Jew, and you have no case.
This is creating a problem which we have never had to face before, but we must face it now, not for the sake of the Jews, but for the sake of our own self-respect as Christian men and women. Some people think that this problem is only a question of 500,000 German Jews. We have seen these people, coming very near to ourselves in culture and civilisation; German Jews, rich, prosperous and powerful, smashed. But these 500,000 German Jews, with the limelight upon them to-day held in place by Julius Streicher, are only a small part of the problem of the Jewish people. There are 500,000 Jews in Germany. They are getting less, but there are 5,000,000 in Poland. In Austria, in the Baltic States, in Rumania and in Greece—in all these lands, formerly civilised, you see this awful fate approaching the Jewish population. We used to complain of the Communist propaganda of Russian ideas and dominion, but now we have the Nazi propaganda throughout the whole world, thriving, existing and devoting its entire activities to stirring up in smaller and lesser-bred nations a policy of hatred for these unfortunate Jews—a policy contrary to all that we have stood for in the past. The Jews are being driven out of Poland to-day. Anyone who knows the conditions in Poland will admit at once that they are ten times worse than they are in Germany. The Jews in Poland are poorer and more easily starved. There is not a country in Europe to-day, except Estonia and the Scandinavian countries, which does not make it evident that sooner or later they are going to get rid of these people, that the chance of a Jew making an honest living will come to an end; they will have to go.
That has happened before to the Jews, and to other people. The Puritans were driven out of this country in much the same manner, but before there has always been somewhere for them to go. Now, if 1081 you look round the world, you find nowhere for these unfortunate people to go. No land is free for them; no land where they live at present is allowed to be any longer their home. The right hon. Member and I, and many other hon. Members in this House, did all that we could to save the Armenians, and later on the Assyrians, from similar persecution. We failed, but I think it is to our honour at least that we tried, and even now by spending the money of the British taxpayer we are doing something to fulfil the duties of humanity towards the Assyrians. But this is a ten times larger problem. They cannot even come to this country or go to the United States. I would ask my right hon. Friend to observe that immigrants are not wholly vicious even from an economic point of view. Every immigrant to this country or to Palestine makes work for the people in the country. He has to be fed and clothed, and transported. The immigrant should not be looked upon solely as a man who is stealing a job from an honest Englishman but as a man who is providing work for that honest Englishman. At the present time it may not be possible to allow any foreigner to come into England, but I can imagine what Mr. Gladstone and Mr. Bright would have said if they had been faced with an England which closed its doors to the oppressed.
We cannot do much here now, but at least we rule Palestine, and there is a chance, almost the only hope for the Jewish people. I have pointed out to the House how this policy has been spread through Europe by the Nazi regime, but it has gone beyond Europe. The same propaganda has been going on in other countries of the world. You find exactly the same agitation in Iraq, the same desire to be clear of the unclean thing. You find it arousing exactly the same pogroms and riots in Algiers and in Constantinople as in the streets of Warsaw, and you find it also in Palestine. You find the same feeling that Arab unity and hope for the future consist in adopting the ideas of Nazi Germany and closing that door also as an escape. The possibilities in Palestine have only been recently appreciated, but they are appreciated by the whole of the Jewish race. The size of a country does not necessarily limit the population of the country. Even if the land is bad land, a small country can support a very large population. We 1082 have an example in the case of Belgium, where you have an intensive cultivation carrying the largest population to the square acre in the world.
It all depends upon the application of capital to intensive cultivation. You can turn an asphalted court in the suburbs of Paris, by the use of hot water pipes and made, manured, ground, into land capable of producing many kilos of vegetables per acre. In the same way in Palestine an enormous expansion of Jewish people acquiring land, clearing it of stones and applying to it ail the latest resources of science and human energy, has enabled that land to support a far denser population than any comparable land in the world. As yet only one-tenth of the land of Palestine is in Jewish hands. Nine-tenths of it, although the Arab population is only two to one, is still in Arab hands. The application of capital to intensive cultivation is capable of expansion so that Palestine itself, in spite of the natural poverty of the place, could carry per acre at least twice the population that it carries to-day. It all depends upon capital still coming in. It is not an economic basis but "Needs must where the Devil drives." If the Jew is to live anywhere in peace he has to buy his foothold on the land by paying an enormous sum for it, and then paying an even larger sum in order to make that land productive.
There is one of the possibilities which the starving Jews in Poland see. The other possibility is the wide land of Transjordan, twice the size of Palestine and just across the border, where the Arabs are not anxious to keep out the Jews but are quite naturally anxious to have them in, in order that they may secure the advantage of the high prices which the Jews are willing to pay for land where they may live. Success has followed this magnificent experiment, beyond what any of us dreamed of, but all is jeopardised if we hand over the control of that country to the people who do not want Jews there at all. If you suddenly say, "Oh, let us be saved from the responsibility for all these troubles in Palestine," we may get an easy road, but it will be a disgraceful policy for it will be to surrender a responsibility which we have so far carried on well and it will put an end for ever to this last hope of the Jewish people. That is why you have in this House to-day an almost 1083 unanimous opinion among Members who have gone into the question, that whatever happens we must not surrender, must not clear out of Palestine, but must continue to carry the mixed burden of Arab and Jew which we have so far carried well, with mixed results but good results on the whole during the last 16 years.
I turn for one moment to the special interest that the Labour party has in this question. The Labour party would be the last body in this House to urge the colonisation of Palestine by Jews if that colonisation would result in the same destruction of the native races as followed the colonisation of Mexico and Peru by the Spaniards, or of North America by the British, or of the Congo by the Belgian Government. If it meant a repetition of the exploitation of the aboriginal inhabitants of that place, if it meant even a deterioration of their status, then you would have on these benches a very different speech and a very different attitude from what you have to-day. We do not want to repeat those injustices of the past. We are confident, both from the experience of the last 16 years and from our knowledge of what the British Government can do, that so far from injuring the Arabs the access of British rule has been the salvation of the Arab fellaheen of Palestine. You have only to compare the condition of the fellaheen to-day with the condition of the peasant in Egypt or Syria. I admit that we have not made a large advance, but at least we have shown that by the use of civilisation we can help natives instead of destroying them. Compare the wages of Arab unskilled labour in Haifa or Jaffa with wages in Alexandria or Cairo or in the Lebanon and Damascus. There you can see and measure the 100 per cent. rise in wages that has taken place in 15 years. Compare it with the stagnancy and poverty which only those who know the East can appreciate or understand.
We know that in backing the present form of administration in Palestine, so far as the Arab rank and file are concerned, we are doing the right thing. What is meant by this perpetual thought of the injustices to Arabs, from which they are suffering now and from which this new constitution is to save them? What is the injustice to the Arab? Take, first, the case of the Bedouin tribes in 1084 Palestine, the wandering tribes who live in tents, now here and now there, with no cultivation, living on flocks and herds. They have been accustomed for the last 3,000 years, since the time of Abraham, to wander to and fro on these lands, their chief weapon the goat to destroy all cultivation. There is no doubt that our occupation of Palestine and the spread of civilisation in recent years have resulted in the gradual driving back of the nomad races and the gradual advance of the plough and of more intensive cultivation. There is no doubt that every change in cultivation or in civilisation does injure some people, and these wandering Bedouin have suffered and must suffer as civilisation advances and as their tenure of land changes from a roving tenure over vast areas to a fixed tenure of fixed spots. By all means let the British Government take such precautions as are necessary to compensate these people for the loss of their normal form of occupation. Let us help them to get land, to make the best of the new form of intensive cultivation, but do not say, "No. this has been the work for 3,000 years and this shall continue; the land shall not be better used."
Take the charge that is brought against the British Government of injustice to the Arabs. You must distinguish between the two classes of Arabs. There are the rich and the poor in Palestine as elsewhere. The rich under Turkish rule and under other rule up to now have dominated the very mixed population of Palestine. Too often when justice to the Arabs is considered we are considering only the well-to-do Arabs, the landowners, the merchants and the intelligentsia of Palestine. But if you are going to protect these people you are going to protect them not against the Jews but against their own weaker, poorer Arab fellow-citizens. Let me give one illustration to prove my point. Quite recently, but before the present Colonial Secretary took office, there was an Ordinance passed whereby the number of new doctors in Palestine was limited to a quota. A refugee coming from Germany with a good education, a skilled consulting surgeon, could previously take up a job in Palestine and make a living. Now that has been curtailed, not because the doctors there wish it to be curtailed, but because a certain number of Arab doctors said they could not have this intense competition from European doctors. It is the 1085 normal trade union feeling. The support of that doctrine on the ground that it was in the interests of the Arabs is what I complain of.
There you have an enormous and extremely poor Arab population, better off than they were but still Oriental, without a midwife in the villages, and without a doctor. I know one Arab village of about 1,500 Arabs where there is now one lady doctor. She is the only Jew in the village, and in times of trouble she is probably protected by her friends and neighbours from the people outside. But the villages in Palestine who have not a resident doctor at all, and the villages without midwives and chemists, must be considerable in number. Surely in the interest of the Arab population you want to have the best doctoring, the best chance of bringing a child to birth successfully and the best opportunity of getting nursing attendance in every direction. This particular piece of legislation may be in the interests of some Arabs, a handful of doctors there now, but it cannot be in the interests of the common Arab people.
Take this restriction on immigration. In every other country in the world when it is a question of immigrating working men, the trade unions and Labour party have been against it. I do not blame them. But in Palestine you have your trade union organisations and your Labour party begging for more working men to come in and compete with them. In spite of their vested interest in their high wages, in keeping these people out, the Jews are prevented from coining in, or at least prevented from coming in in such numbers as the Labour party and trade unions there ask. While that check on immigration continues, the interests of the Arab landowners and cultivators and the orange growers are not forgotten. While Jewish immigration is being checked, Arabs are coming over the frontier from Transjordan, coming into the labour market for a few months while the oranges have to be picked. Hon. Members in this House could stand on the bridge over the Jordan and watch these people coming in from Transjordan to do that work. But the Jews can go nowhere. That is done in order to provide cheap labour for some of the Arabs. Whether the injustice is to the Jews or to the owners of the orange plantations, I will leave to the House to judge. I 1086 do not think I need labour the point that the problem before us of favouring Arabs or favouring Jews is not a simple one of favouring one of two nations, but is a matter of favouring one class or another class.
I will pass from that to a third illustration. The land legislation proposed for Palestine bears all the marks of previous legislation; it is good for the Arab upper class and bad for the Arab lower class; it is disastrous for the Jews who want land. It is extraordinary how little is known here or even in Palestine as to the method by which land is held in Palestine at the present time. There are a vast number of different types, and there are many names for different forms of cultivation. At the one end of the scale there is the absentee landlord living in Damascus, and at the other end of the scale there is the almost communistic form of village community holding. During the last 15 years we have tried to establish registration of title in Palestine. The whole of the land has been surveyed and now a portion of it—I do not know whether it is a third or a half—has registered titles, so that by turning over the pages of a register one may know who owns certain land, whether it is subject to mortgage, and what is its class for cultivation purposes. The land is divided into 15 different categories. With this welter of different tenures, differing in various parts of Palestine, differing according to whether it has been surveyed or not, without being certain as to how much is landlord-owned, how much is under small ownership or how much is under foreign ownership, with this almost complete uncertainty one has to introduce legislation.
I am very loath to take information either from a Jew or from an Arab on the question of land tenure and land cultivation in Palestine; but I have had a conversation with an Englishman who has lived for a long time in that country and who knows it well. He told me that the condition of the fellaheen in Palestine is not so rosy as it has been painted, that the villages are owned by these landowners, that the tenant's right is worth nothing at all, that nearly all these villagers are indebted to the landlords, that the cultivation is on the mediaeval system according to which the tenant takes one-half or two-thirds of the produce and the landlord the 1087 other third or half, that the whole class is indebted to the landowners, that the Government comes along when seasons are bad and give the landlords the seeds for the next year's crop, so that at the end of that time the landlord holds the unfortunate cultivators more in his grip than ever. Just as in India the peasant cultivator is indebted to an absentee money-lender, so are these people in Palestine indebted to the landowners. It is the only country in the world where the Jews do not become the moneylenders, because that business is absorbed entirely by the landowners.
Now there is proposed this law which says that no cultivator shall part with the last five acres, or whatever it may be, that he shall not be expelled from his land and that he shall not be able to sell it. In Egypt such legislation has existed for a long time. It was, I believe, introduced by Lord Kitchener, and the object was to save the fellaheen of Egypt from the money-lenders. It was said that the owner and cultivator must not sell their land, but it was not realised that in depriving them of the right to sell their land, the land became a white elephant. The landlord in Egypt was allowed to die out.
This proposed law says that if a man sells his land it shall ipso facto become the property of the State. That will not help the small cultivator. It will help the big landlord who will now be able to obtain a high price, because there will be less land available for sale. What does it mean in fact? An Arab cultivator having a small plot within 15 or 20 miles of one of the big industrial towns, such as Haifa or Jaffa, will have the opportunity of carrying on a little business in town. He will be able to carry on that business without selling his piece of land, and his wife and family will have to continue living on the land in order to show occupation. The ground will hardly be scratched, the property will deteriorate, but the man will be prevented from selling the land and anybody else will be prevented from using it. Already the price of land has gone up to such a figure in Palestine that it is two or three times as expensive as it is in this country. Everything which tends still further to restrict the amount of land available for purchase 1088 in Palestine still further sends up the price of what little and there is on the market. All that is proposed, far from helping cultivation or the cultivator, will tend to stereotype cultivation in its present form and in its present mediaeval conditions and will prevent civilisation from developing and the land from becoming productive and useful to all men.
All these proposed laws—laws such as the immigration law, which places upon the Jewish immigrant the onus of proving that he has a right to live in Palestine, the onus of proving himself innocent, instead of as everywhere else in the British Empire placing upon the authorities the onus of proving a man guilty—will be in the hands of the Arab Legislative Council. That will be the case because the Jews have made it clear that they will not tike any part in the Council. But even if they did, the Legislative Council has a statutory Arab majority. The Moslem Arabs have 11 seats and the Christian Arabs have three—I may say that the Christian Arabs are far more anti-Semitic than the Mohammedan Arabs—making in all 14 Arabs to seven Jews.
§ Earl WINTERTON
The Christians are not necessarily Arabs. The right hon. Gentleman is mistaken in supposing that to be the case.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I am not in the least mistaken. The vast majority of the Christians in Palestine are Arabs. As the Noble Lord must know, the whole population is Christian Arab, and what small number of other European Christians there is must be swamped in the vast population of native-born Christians. Moreover, it will be observed that the election is not limited by any educational or property test, bet that all males over 25 vote. Consequently, far from being a moderating element, the Christian element is very much the reverse. But the exact number does not matter as long as there is a majority which no general election can change, a majority forming the Government which no mismanagement by that Government can reduce. What should we think of a government formed on those what would be our attitude if the right hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Government benches could not be removed and we on these benches had no chance of removing them? Is 1089 that the English ideal in framing a constitution? If you have all the legislative power, and if you have all the power of making appointments and promotions in the hands of a permanent government, irremovable by any electorate, you have the beginning not of a democracy but the beginning of a dictatorship by one section of the population over another.
The right hon. Gentleman responsible for this legislation knows as well as I do the vices of party government. He knows as well as I do the vices of the particular system of communal representation which is embodied in this new constitution, a communal representation which ensures the election by the particular community involved of people who will be extreme and not moderate in their opposition to the rival community, a communal representation which ensures that everybody who is elected shall not have, as we have, a general responsibility to all parties and to all classes in the community, but a responsibility only to one narrow body of religion. There you have in a nutshell the vices of communal representation which we have seen and which we have tried to destroy, but which we have never had here; and we are told that this constitution will tend to bring Jews and Arabs together. Communal representation and a statutory majority must inevitably have the same result in Palestine as they have had in Cyprus, in Syria and in India and as they are bound to have everywhere. Such a system will set the two parties by the ears more bitterly than ever, giving all the power to one and unending subservience to the other. This Constitution has now been read out to the various parties in Palestine. It has been emphatically rejected by the Jews, and the Arabs are still making up their minds whether they will accept it or reject it. But the responsibility of this Government is far greater and wider than a responsibility to those two elements in Palestine. We have a responsibility to the people of Palestine and to the Jews of the world—
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I said to the people of Palestine, to the Jews of the world and to ourselves. The responsibility of our nation at the present time is considerable. We are having thrust upon 1090 our shoulders more and more responsibility. The leadership of the world is, indeed, in our hands to-day and the question of that corner of the Mediterranean, the possibility of building up there a friendly population and a firm support for that justice and liberty for which England stands—those are matters of greater importance to-day than ever before. Promises have been made but I call the attention of the House to the fact that the promise was a promise of a Legislative Council when democratic institutions had been tried and experienced in Palestine. They have had municipal councils there now for nearly a year—municipal councils, I would point out, elected in the Arab municipalities on a very limited franchise, whereas this scheme would involve manhood suffrage. Ought we not to say that the time has not yet come for such a change, that we cannot yet judge of the results of the municipal experiment? Ought we not to say, "Give us a few more years"? In any case, we were never pledged to this particular scheme which would, I submit, ruin any chance of developing Palestine in the future as it has developed in the past, supported by English justice, financed by Jewish capital and inspired by the desire of a great people for freedom. I submit that this scheme would destroy our hope of building up there the true support of that free people, of our building up that reputation which is of greater value to us than any material support, that great reputation of standing by humanity and justice in spite of all the terrorism and force which is being exercised from Germany to-day.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Mr. CROSSLEY
I would like to preface the brief observations which I propose to address to the House on this subject by saying that I certainly am not an anti-Semite. I have many Jewish friends, some of whom are Zionists and some of whom, I would point out to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood), are not Zionists. It appears to me that there is another background to this problem as well as the world Jewish background and one to which we ought to give equally serious consideration. In the first place, the people of Palestine are not Bedouin Only a very few of the people of that 1091 country are Bedouin or have ever been Bedouin.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I did not pretend that they were. I mentioned the Bedouin as one small section of the population which had suffered.
§ Mr. CROSSLEY
Then I misunderstood the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. I understood him to stress the case of the Bedouin.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
The hon. Member must distinguish between the Bedouin in Palestine and the fellaheen.
§ Mr. CROSSLEY
My point is that the Palestinian—as I would prefer to call him rather than the Arab—has been settled in that country, whether he be Christian or whether he be Moslem, for something like 1,400 years. He has continuously lived during that period in that land as a farmer and there is one axiom which I would ask the House to accept. It is that when he loses his land he becomes a rather inferior being. He is dependent on his land, not only for his livelihood—though he may get more money by selling it to an incoming Jew—but also for his respectability and self-esteem. Nor is the Arab Palestinian a wholly ignorant person. He made some steps towards civilisation under the Turks. In 1908, Palestine sent its representatives to the Parliament in Constantinople. I do not know what benefits were thus conferred upon them, but, at any rate, it was a step forward. Then, they had municipal self-government before the War. Nevertheless, I do not think it right that this House should forget that when the War came the Arabs definitely wanted the Allied Powers to win. They helped us and whatever the truth may be about the MacMahon conversations—there were conversations—it is exceedingly doubtful whether Palestine was part of the territory to be reserved.
The time, however, came when we thought fit to have the Balfour Declaration incorporated in the Mandate. I accept that position. I agree that we cannot evade our responsibilities. We are tied up with the Mandate now, but I think that if we could at that time have foreseen the experience through which we have passed in the last few years, we should never have embarked upon it. The 1092 Mandate is really a contradiction in terms. You cannot make a small country a national home for a great world people without, at the same time, prejudicing the rights of the existing inhabitants. The Zionism that has grown up in Palestine has really nothing to do with the old Jewish colonies of pre-War times. The old Jewish colonists, I agree with the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, lived at peace with the existing inhabitants and were respected and appreciated. They were a religious, God-fearing, devout people. I do not think you could say that of the great majority of the Zionists who have come in during the last few years. Many of them are completely nonreligious people. They go to Palestine because they think they are more likely to get rich there under the protection of Great Britain and live under conditions which are rather better than the conditions in Poland from which many of them came. But they are not like the old German Jewish colonists who were never molested during the troubles of 1930.
§ Mr. CROSSLEY
There were Jews of many nationalities there before the War but there were colonies of German Jews and they were highly respected.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
The hon. Member is quite mistaken. There were no German Jewish colonies at all. There may have been a few German colonies at Zammarin.
§ Mr. CROSSLEY
I too have been there. I could tell the right hon. and gallant Gentleman a little story of my experiences. Let us look at the country as it is. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman will not quarrel with the statement that the areas susceptible to intensive cultivation—the orange groves of Jaffa, the vale of Sharon, the plain of Acre, the valley of Esdraelon between Carmel and Nazareth, the valley between Nazareth and Beisan, the marshes of Huleh where they are drained, the district where formerly British residents in Jerusalem found their only recreation in duck shooting—all these have been completely taken away from the Arabs. Those are the fertile areas of Palestine and the greater part of all that area is now completely under Jewish cultivation. 1093 Very little remains to the Arabs as was pointed out in the Hope-Simpson report. At the risk of taking the House over some some rather old ground I quote two extracts from that report. On page 66 it says:The fellah is neither lazy nor unintelligent. He is a competent and capable agriculturist and there is little doubt that were he to be given the chance of learning better methods and the capital which is a necessary preliminary to their employment, he would rapidly improve his position. Meanwhile, however, the income which he can procure from this inadequate. farm is insufficient to maintain him in a decent standard of comfort and leaves no margin whatever for improvements.The other extract is on page 64:Evidence from every possible source tends to support the conclusion that the Arab fellah cultivator is in a desperate position. He has no capital for his farm. He is on the contrary heavily in debt. His rent is rising, he has to pay heavy taxes and the rate of interest on his loans is incredibly high.Sometimes the moneylenders are Arabs and sometimes they are Jewish. But I do emphasise that it is unfortunate that we never saw fit to continue the old Turkish agricultural bank which was of such great value to the fellaheen before the War. Accepting the Mandate, as we have to accept it, what is the best thing for the House to do to end this continual dissension in Palestine? We ought to take it as an axiom that, if the Arab and Jewish population continue to mix indiscriminately there is no real chance of co-operation for an indefinitely long period. I do not think that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme would have such fear of the proposed Legislative Council, if he thought that the Arabs were not going to vote as one body. He seemed to put forward the suggestion that it was only the Arab upper classes who imagined that they had grievances. I do not think those two arguments are consistent.
To illustrate my point that the opposition comes from all classes of Arabs, I would like to tell a, story. I was riding on a pony between Beisan and Tiberias with my Arab groom, Abou Dahout. We came to the only works at that time existing in Palestine, the electricity works on the Jordan. We reached a gate on the other side of which was a main road. The Polish-Jewish sentry stood in the gate 1094 and would not let us pass through, and reluctantly, because it was a long way round, I felt I had to go back about 20 yards and turn my pony and charge. I did so, and the Jewish sentry in the gate melted to one side. Then I beckoned to Abou Dahout to follow me, and he went back a good 200 yards, crossed his legs over the blankets and saddle bags, and came full charge. His arms flapped, and his legs flapped, and as he got near the gate he began making the most terrific yell, and as he got into the gate he leaned across towards the Jewish sentry, who was shrinking to one side, and expectorated with the greatest force I have even seen in my life, shouting at the same time, "Iyûn Abûn. al Kelb."
Does that incident lead the House to believe that it is safe to put these Jews under the heel of the Arabs?
§ Mr. CROSSLEY
No, but it is really so significant of the attitude of the country. You continually see that kind of thing. I am not pleading for the Legislative Council to-day, and the hon. Lady is making a great mistake if she thinks I am. I am pleading that we are going on the wrong lines altogether, and I am trying to show that among the quite common people in Palestine there is great distrust.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Translate!"]. It means, "Curse your father the dog." The solution for which I am pleading is a system of cantonisation. I believe that you should schedule all those fertile lands from Jaffa to Acre, from Acre to Tiberias, and from Tiberias to Safed and say that they shall be Jewish cantons governed from Tel-Aviv. Conversely you should bring in Transjordania, transfer the Emir Abdulla to Nablus, and run an Arab kingdom of the hills and the Valley of the Jordan and the present country of Transjordania together. It is not a new idea. It was first advocated, I believe, by Mr. G. K. Chesterton, but since then it has been advocated on one occasion by Dr. Weizmann himself, who considered it in 1920 as a very possible way in which Palestine could develop in the future. It has been advocated also by a Mrs. Stewart Erskine, in a very remarkable book which she wrote recently, called "Palestine of the Arabs," and it was 1095 advocated by the Jewish Press in Jerusalem in 1926.
If you had such cantonisation, you would have in one area a completely Jewish land, administered by Jews, and in the other you could reserve your land to the Arabs. The Jews would get, as indeed they have already got, almost the whole of the good land in Palestine, but you would compensate the Arabs in Palestine by bringing Transjordania into your Arab cantons, and you would, of course, have to reserve under the direct rule of the mandatory Power the holy cities of Jerusalem, probably Hebron, where the second most holy Mosque in the Mohammedan world is, and possibly Bethlehem.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman would not quarrel with me if I said most Jews really want the whole of Palestine in time, or else, alternatively, that they want to reduce the existing population to the position of the Hittites in the Bible, namely, "hewers of wood and drawers of water."
§ Mr. CROSSLEY
Was it the Gibeonites? If that were done, the mandatory Power could not say that it had safeguarded the rights of the existing population, because those rights must depend on their having some self-prestige, and I do not see how you can preserve even the self-prestige which remains to the Palestinian Arab to-day unless you have some system of cantonisation and some preservation for him of definite areas of ground which are his.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Sir ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR
I am sure the whole House feels grateful to the right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood), who opened this Debate, for the use which he has made of this opportunity and for starting the Debate in a speech which raised our discussion to so high a level of idealism and practical statesmanship. I feel gratitude also to the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Crossley), who in an extraordinarily interesting and sympathetic way put a very different point of view, though I must say that I did not find myself in very much agreement with 1096 the point of view which he expressed. Let me take for example three of his statements. He said that the Arabs had been settled in Palestine for generations; he said that the landless Arabs—and he rather conveyed the impression to the House, whether deliberately or not I do not know, that there were a great many of them—who suffered from the intrusion of the Jews, suffered in their morale; and he said that the mandate contained a contradiction in terms which it was impossible to reconcile, namely, the ideal of the Jewish national home and the ideal of maintaining the interests of the existing Arabs in Palestine.
I believe that all those three statements are profoundly untrue. They do not, in the first place, take account of the statement of the right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme about the immense benefits which have come to the Arab population there, such as higher wages and rising standards of living. It is perhaps not recognised in the House that in the Jewish citrus plantations, as was brought out in the minutes of the Mandates Commission last June, out of 10,000 workers, 7,500 are Arabs. I am not sure that it is quite realised that the Moslem population of Palestine, taking the nine years up to November, 1932, which are the latest figures available, increased from less than 600,000 to over 750,000, an increase of 28 per cent.
§ Mr. CROSSLEY
I do not want to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but he will remember that during the later stages of the War there was the most appalling famine in Palestine, in 1917.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
That is true, but that does not validate the statement of the hon. Member that all the Arabs in Palestine have been living there for generations, when, as a matter of fact, over 28 per cent. have come there within the last nine years as a result of Jewish development, over a quarter of them, up to 1932, so that it cannot be said that they have all lived there for generations. What is the truth about the numbers of these landless Arabs? I think the truth is to be found in the Government report of 1934, I think it was, where it was shown that there were only 656 of them then, and that of them very few showed any disposition to avail themselves of opportunities of obtaining land. They 1097 were not opplying for land, so that I think these landless Arabs are really a figment of our political discussions, and I do not think they correspond to any reality at all. Indeed, there have been, I understand, in the last few years anything from 15,000 to 25,000 Arab immigrants coming altogether from outside the country, those immigrants to whom the right hon. and gallant Gentleman was referring, coming largely from Transjordan, attracted, of course, by the higher wages and rising standards of living, which must inevitably attract them to Palestine from all the countries round about.
The hon. Member referred to our obligations to the Arabs during the War, and I for one want to recognise those obligations to the full. I am glad that he referred to them, because we really ought to bear them in mind. They fought very gallantly with us during the War, but were we ungrateful? Did we not carve out three Arab Kingdoms for the Arabs?
§ Mr. CROSSLEY
That cuts right across my main contention, which is that the great majority of Palestinians have been settled there for 800 or 900 years and have nothing whatever to do with the three Arab Kingdoms.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
But it was not the great majority of Palestinians who fought so splendidly for the Allied cause. It was the Arab peoples as a whole, and I am dealing with that contention. The hon. Member must not use two arguments and then object to my dealing with both of them. I am dealing with both, and the hon. Member must not confine himself to one only. He referred to the great debt which the Allies owed to the Arabs. I recognise it, and I say that we amply repaid it by creating the Kingdoms of the Hejaz and of Iraq and the Emirate of Transjordan. None of those things could have been done without our support.
§ Earl WINTERTON
This is a matter of great importance, which might cause great indignation in the Hejaz. The British Government had nothing to do with the creation of the Kingdom of the Hejaz, which was entirely created by Ibn Saud.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
Ibn Saud over-ran the Kingdom of the Hejaz, but we actually enabled the Shereef to set up the 1098 Kingdom of the Hejaz, and without our power it would not have been done.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
No, I really cannot give way again. It is rather discouraging to those of us who wish to obey Mr. Speaker's injunction to reply to previous speeches if we constantly have to give way in the course of our observations to allow other Members to interrupt. I hope the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), who is sitting next but one to the hon. Member, will take part in this Debate later, and, if so, I have no doubt he will be able to answer any point in my speech to which the hon. Member has not been able to answer. The hon. Member went on to say that the Jews were irreligious and that they came to Palestine to get rich quick. I think there is no stronger impression carried away from Palestine by those who visit the country than the idealism of the Jews, of the young men and young women who are working there building up a nation for the first time. They all feel that they are doing something which is being done by the Jews for the first time, in the Christian era, at any rate, namely, building up a country from the foundation, and they are all animated by that great spirit of idealism and transforming this whole State of Palestine. He went on to make the assertion that Huleh was a fertile area. He said a fertile area and he mentioned some other areas.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I can assure the hon. Member that he will find that he did not say that. He said that there were a number of areas including Huleh which were now the only fertile areas in Palestine. Those were his words as I took them down at the time. But so far from that being true, I have here a speech by the High Commissioner of Palestine delivered in December, 1934, in which he said that more sickness and suffering are caused by malaria to more people there than in any other district in Palestine. He went on to say that there is now every prospect that about 40,000 dunams of marshy land of little present value to anyone can be drained and made available for cultivation, and that the position of the local Arabs will be improved. I think that we ought to realise that the Jews are doing a great 1099 work in Palestine not only for Jewry but for the Arabs too, and that both races—and I am sure we all want to see and are glad to see it—both are benefiting from this great constructive work which the Jews are carrying out there now. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman who opened this Debate, and think it is of the greatest importance that this work should be extended into Trans-Jordan.
Now the Government is proposing measures, I am sorry to say, which must have the effect of restricting Jewish immigration and development. I would rather see the Government come before the House and say that it was proposing to take constructive, positive measures which would help Jews and Arabs to develop their country in the common interest of the two races. No British capital would have to be supplied. Nobody is suggesting that for one moment. There is now a great surplus in the hands of the Palestine Government, a £6,000,000 surplus equivalent to two years' revenue; and now surely is the time when the Government there should be considering not plans for restricting anybody's enterprise but rather plans for liberating the constructive energy of both Jews and Arabs in Palestine. Article 6 of the Mandate says that the Government will encourage the close settlement of Jews on the lands, including State lands and waste lands not required for public purposes. Why is not that Article more extensively and whole-heartedly carried out? The land of Beisan for example. I do not know that it is generally recognised that the whole of Huleh, this great area of which I was speaking just now in answer to the arguments of the hon. Member—the whole of that great development is going to be carried out at the cost of the Jews.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
And largely by their labour. I would say that the Government ought to see that this great surplus, which has been accumulated, more than half of it coming directly from the Jewish people, is used to help the Jews in these great schemes of development which will have the effect of increasing the revenue of the Government in no remote period of time. Then there is another similar question that I should like to mention, and 1100 that is the question of the social services in Palestine. It was all very well up till quite recently for the Government to expect the Jews to look after all the social services of the Jewish population with very little help. But now that the Jewish population in Palestine is growing, and now that their enterprises are multiplying, it seems to me that they have a claim for a larger share of the public services than they are receiving at the present time. For instance on Jewish education £47,000 is spent out of £300,000 spent by the Government in Palestine, and on hospitals and medical institutions the Jews get £10,300 out of £300,000. I think that while it vas all very well to take the line that the Jews are comparatively rich, that the Arabs are comparatively poor, and that the Jews should look after themselves when the Jews had a comparatively small number of people to look after, now that their task is getting larger they ought to receive greater help from the Government than they are now getting.
Then I would refer for a moment to the very important question of immigration. There is a suggestion made that the Government are considering raising the qualifying minimum for Jews who come to Palestine with capital from £1,000 to £2,000. Now a great many of these men who come in with £1,000 have succeeded extremely well. £1,000 is enough in a great majority of cases to give them a start. The effect of raising the qualifying minimum to £2,000 would of course be to hamper immigration, and also to hamper the flow of capital into Palestine and retard the economic development of the country. It is Jewish capital which has created the recent extraordinary increase of economic prosperity in that country and has therefore created the absorptive capacity of Palestine, and to raise this minimum of capital from £1,000 to £2,000 would strike a serious blow at the economic prospects of Palestine, and particularly at German Jewish immigration, which for reasons which the right hon. Gentleman gave in his opening speech is of such enormous importance.
Then there is also the admission of relatives—and I hope the Secretary of State will be able to answer this point too—the admission of relatives dependent on Palestine residents is being made more difficult. There are two reasons why I think that very unfortunate, one is the 1101 very strong family tie which exists in Jewish families; they feel the severance of the family tie enormously. But, apart from that, something like £900,000 or £1,000,000 is sent out of Palestine every year by the Palestinian residents to their dependents. Therefore if the dependants can be brought into Palestine you will save that.
I come to the last point on which I wish to dwell and that is the question of the Legislative Council. These unfortunate proposals for an important constitutional experiment are at any rate in one respect unique in our history. They are almost completely friendless. In Palestine they have already stimulated discord between Jews and Arabs and even among the Arabs themselves, some of whose organisations want to accept them and some of whom are very hostile. None of them support the proposals enthusiastically. The Jews are unanimously hostile. Only in this country have they been received with virtual unanimity, for the great bulk of political opinion in every party in the State is strongly opposed to them, while the Secretary of State and his representative in another place adopt an attitude of embarrassed and uneasy acquiesence in the proposals of the Palestinian Government. Even the hon. Member who has just spoken has made it quite clear that he dissociates himself entirely from these proposals and wants a new scheme of his own to which he has given a great deal of thought, and for which he has found a considerable amount of acceptance.
Knowing how many hon. Members wish to speak this evening, I want to confine myself to two points. First there is the practical Parliamentary aspect. A representative assembly can I think only work when there is a fundamental basis of consent. Our machinery in this House was nearly wrecked and had to be completely overhauled because of 80 Irish Members in a House of over 700, as it then was, who refused to recognise any foundation of consent, who wanted not to get the machinery of Government working well in the interests of the country but to prevent it working. They brought the machinery even of the august, mature and solid structure of Parliament here, almost to a standstill. Now in Palestine, in tins new body which is just going to be set up, it is proposed to give a majority of elected members to parties 1102 who will be pledged to use the power of the Government to defeat the purpose of the mandate and if possible to secure its repeal.
This is the common platform as the right hon. Gentleman has pointed out both of Christian and Moslem Arabs, who together will have a majority of two to one over the Jews. I am not sure whether hon. Members realise that the majority of Christian and Moslem Arabs, official and unofficial, will be two to one 14 to seven, over the Jews; and when you take the elected members, the-nominated members and the official members, Moslem and Christian Arabs, who will be pledged to defeat the mandate and to secure if possible its repeal, will actually have 50 per cent. of the total Council. If some of the members of the Council happen to be ill, or for any other reason unable to attend the Council, the opponents of the mandate will actually have a majority.
Now a situation less propitious for the gradual and sober healing of political differences could scarcely be devised. For or against the mandate will be the one issue at the election and the extremists of both parties will have the best chance of getting the votes of their electors. Nor can a Council, on which the opponents of the mandate are given equal representation with all other members, including official members, be other than a drag on the Government in its duty of putting forward constructive proposals for the development of the country and creating at the earliest possible moment a Jewish national home. It is an unfair and unreal argument to represent the Jews as the stumbling-block to the setting up of a legislative council and representative institutions in Palestine. The real stumbling-block is the demand of the Arabs for the repeal of the mandate. That is the stumbling-block at the present time. Until that obstacle is removed by the Arabs, I cannot help doubting the wisdom of setting up a legislative council at all, at any rate if half the representation of all the members elected, nominated and official, is given to those who demand the repeal of the mandate. That is surely an experiment which has very little promise of success.
My second point is that the Jewish interest in and contribution towards the prosperity of Palestine entitles them to 1103 parity of representation on the council. For two thousand years they have been homeless, a minority in every country, and now Britain, with the support of the League of Nations, has pledged itself to give them a national home. That was nearly 20 years ago, and on the strength of that pledge vast sums of Jewish capital have flowed into Palestine, expanded the revenues, fertilised the soil and increased the population of the country, both Jewish and Arab. It is too late after all these years and all that effort to go back and condemn the Jews who have made that great effort, permanently to a minority status. Therefore, on both practical and constitutional grounds, I would beg the Government to think again before setting up this legislative council. The Palestine Mandate was a great experiment. As the right hon. and gallant Gentleman who opened the Debate said, it has so far been wonderfully successful, although it is very far from being complete. The emergence, for example of Haifa, 15 years ago an insignificant little harbour, into a great port which is now one of the bases of British power in the Mediterranean, is one of the fruits of Jewish enterprise and is symbolic of the importance of the relations between Britain and Palestine, the Jewish national home.
I fully realise that the Secretary of State when he replies will have to bear in mind the position of our High Commissioner, who has rendered such splendid services to Palestine and has presided with such wisdom and impartiality over that country during his term of office; but I would suggest to the Secretary of State that this is a problem so difficult and of such vital importance that it is worth taking a little time and trouble about the constitution of Palestine. I would therefore urge that we should follow the precedent which has been set when Parliament has been dealing with problems of providing constitutions for other countries—India and Ceylon, for example—and should set up a Royal Commission, send it out to Palestine, and give it the task of advising us whether the time is ripe for the constitution of such a council, and if so on what lines it should be constituted so as to ensure the fulfilment of the ideal which inspired the Mandate, an ideal which has since suddenly and tragically become the 1104 desperate need of hundreds of thousands of vilely persecuted men and women—the ideal of a national home for the Jewish people.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Mr. J. H. Thomas)
If I were called upon to say whether the Belfour Declaration were justified, whether the Jews in Palestine were good citizens, and whether further encouragement and help for the Jews in the maintenance of their national home were necessary, I would without hesitation say "Yes" to all these questions. When I listened to my right hon. Friend in the very human and moving speech he made pointing out, unfortunately all too truly, the hell and horror through which Jewry is going at this moment, my sympathy was entirely with him. If this afternoon I were merely called upon to say what the British Government's view is in endeavouring to help the Jews at this time, I would first say that on my own responsibility, when the first attempt, which, unfortunately, has developed so rapidly, was made to persecute the Jews, I asked every Dominion whether they could make a contribution, I did that because I felt then, as I feel now, that it is a great human problem and that no words of mine would be too strong to condemn the persecution from which these people have been suffering. I can understand the Jews in all countries at this moment feeling and thinking, "When we are subjected to this treatment and when we are going through this troubled period, why should the British Government add to our sufferings in a proposal that we cannot other than feel is a proposal against our best interest?" I am trying to put myself in the position of the Jews viewing this question.
I must remind the House it is the proposal of the Legislative Council that I am called upon to defend, but I will answer my right hon. Friend by saying that he can rest assured that the suggestion of increasing from £1,000 to £2,000 which it was contemplated immigrants should hold will not be proceeded with. There was a suggestion that the Jewish Agency should he responsible for the question of immigration, and I am afraid that my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) gave some support to that. I have the authority of 1105 Dr. Weizmann to say—and no one who knows his work and magnificent efforts would do other than pay tribute to him—that so far as immigration is concerned, the relationship between the Government and the Jewish Agency is such that he has no complaint to make, but has absolute confidence in its administration. Therefore, let me assure the House that there will be no interference of any sort with the power and authority of the Jewish Agency. With regard to the surplus of £6,000,000, that is in itself a magnificent tribute to Jewish enterprise. In the main it is Jewish money. Here, again, I am happy to inform the House that schemes of development of all kinds are under contemplation. I make that intimation because I hope the House will believe me when I say that if we were only debating the future of Palestine there would be no difference whatever in any part of the House. I was in the happy position in 1924, on behalf of the Labour Government, of endorsing the Balfour Declaration. It has justified every promise made on behalf of the Jews and fulfilled every desire of everyone anxious for its success.
We are faced this afternoon with a proposal for a legislative assembly. My right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) would give the impression, not intentionally I am sure, that this was some new proposal quite suddenly thought about and introduced. He must have forgotten that he himself was a Member of the Government in 1932 which had to consider whether our representative at Geneva should, by the authority of the Government, go before the Mandates Committee and inform that body that he was speaking with the authority of the British Government in pledging the British Government to a legislative assembly—
§ Mr. THOMAS
Let us get the facts clearly. I only want to put the Government's difficulties before the House. I repeat that my right hon. Friend was a party to that declaration. What did it mean? We hear a lot to-day about the pledged word of the British Government and how necessary it is to keep our word and bond. When we instruct our High Commissioner to go to Geneva and, in 1106 the presence of the nations of the world, to make a clear and definite declaration, it is difficult to go back on that and we must have very good reasons before we do it.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
The last thing I wanted to do was to disclaim my responsibility. I said that I did not want to refer to the whole historical controversy but to shorten my remarks, but what we did at that time definitely approve of was the extension of municipal councils, and it was certainly contemplated that at the end we should come to a legislative council, but no date was given, and there was no suggestion that it would not be on the basis of parity of representation.
§ Mr. THOMAS
Let us be clear. My right hon. Friend is in error there. That declaration was that the experiment of municipal government should be first introduced, to be followed by legislative powers. At the same time Dr. Drummond Shiels, who was then a Minister of the Labour Government, was instructed to go to Geneva and with absolute unanimity, as far as I know, on the part of the Labour Government, to welcome the clear declaration and promise that there should be established a legislative council.
§ Mr. THOMAS
I will quote the words. The legislative council was to be established following the experiment of municipal government, but if my right hon. Friend asks me whether a given date was mentioned my answer is quite clear that there was no given date.
§ Sir AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
If the words used were that it was to follow the experiment of municipal government does not that imply that the experiment was to be made first?
§ Mr. THOMAS
The experiment began a few years ago—two years ago, I think. The whole House wants to do the right thing, and I am pointing out what is fundamental to this whole Debate, that every Government without exception since 1922 has endorsed this pledge of 1107 a legislative council. Therefore, Members in all parts of the House who were members of Governments must ask themselves in what way they themselves are responsible. But to go beyond that, in 1922, when Sir Herbert Samuel proposed the legislative council, its composition and membership, viewed from the standpoint of the Jews alone, was not nearly so satisfactory as this was. Then it was rejected by the Arabs and the Jews accepted it.
§ Mr. THOMAS
I cannot answer, except to give the House the impression I have gained from discussions with Jews on the subject, and the answer I give is that in their view they felt then that the proposal made by the British Government was made with a desire to bring about what I still believe to be essential—not a Palestine for the Jews alone but a Palestine in which Jews and Arabs can co-operate together. All the information I have gained from discussions with prominent Jews has led me to believe that that was the view they took then. At all events that does not alter the fact that from 1922 to to-day every Government has been committed to a legislative council. The Government in 1932 instructed Sir Arthur Wauchope to declare at Geneva that they intended to give effect to it, and therefore, so far as the pledge is concerned, every party in the House is committed to it. But if one is to judge by the Debate this afternoon we are to assume that this legislative body, whenever it may be set up, will interfere in some way with the Mandate. I want to assure the House clearly and definitely that whatever may be the fate of the legislative council, if it is set up, and whatever the composition of the council may be, the Mandate is something that cannot be changed.
§ Mr. THOMAS
My right hon. and gallant Friend says that it can be smashed. The answer I give on behalf of the Government is that it cannot even be a subject of discussion.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
Not smashed in itself, but every piece of legislation that comes forward will affect the question of whether that Mandate can work or not.
§ Mr. THOMAS
I will deal with each point to show whether there is justification for the statement of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. I first assert that, so far as challenging the Mandate as a Mandate is concerned, no one in the legislative council will be allowed to debate it. The subject would be ruled out of order. The existing arrangement that the whole question of immigration is dealt with through the Jewish agency, the final word resting with the High Commissioner, will remain and will not be interfered with.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
What about legislation against illegal immigrants—putting these people in prison without trial?
§ Mr. THOMAS
The answer is that just as now the final word rests with the High Commissioner so it will in the future. That is the second safeguard. As to the third point, that the legislative assembly will be used as a platform for seditious propaganda, here again steps will be taken to safeguard the position, and it will be illegal for any newspaper to print seditious utterances although made in the legislative assembly.
§ Earl WINTERTON
Can the right hon. Gentleman say the process by which this extraordinary provision will be applied?
§ Mr. THOMAS
The process will be that the speaker of the legislative, assembly, whoever he may be will have the power to prevent any seditious speech being published by any newspaper.
§ Mr. THOMAS
That is provided for, because there is to be an interpreter who will know all the languages. It is only fair to say that although the Jewish community as a whole are opposed to the legislative council, all the proposals I 1109 have mentioned, so far as the Mandate, migration and this latter point are concerned, are proposals which in their judgment go a long way to meet the situation. I have taken considerable pains to get to know their views, and it would be unfair to give any indication to the House that the Jews are not totally and absolutely opposed to the legislative council, but that does not alter what their views are on these particular proposals. Now we have the suggestion made that the legislative council should be composed of equal numbers of representatives of the different communities. I would ask the House to consider whether they could justify that proposal on the figures of the present population, which show 825,000 Moslems 100,000 Christians, and 320,000 Jews. I ask the House, regardless of their views about a legislative council, but assuming that Parliament has already indicated a desire to set it up—
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
Did I hear the right hon. Gentleman say "assuming that Parliament authorises it to be set up"?
§ Mr. THOMAS
I said "assuming that"—assuming the legislative council was set up, would any one argue that the numbers of representatives of the Jews and Moslems is unfair to the Jews on the figures of population which I have quoted? Would it not be unfair, in face of those figures, to suggest, that we could do other than give effect to the figures suggested by the High Commissioner. I am, I hope, putting the position fairly to the House, because nothing would be more fatal than for a Minister to disregard the strong feelings and sentiments in this House. I am not unmindful of those strong feelings, but it is my duty to put the facts of the case from each side.
I go beyond that and ask the House to remember that there is not a responsible Jew with any knowledge of Palestine who would not agree straight away that the one man essential to Palestine in this difficult period is Sir Arthur Wauchope. There is not a responsible Jew who does not pay tribute to his magnificent qualities and who does not welcome the extension of office offered to him and accepted by him only a few months ago. Therefore, the Government must take into consideration his advice. The Government 1110 must take note of the advice that he tenders to them. He says quite clearly and definitely that so far as promises are concerned every British Government have admitted it since 1922, and that so far as his declaration at Geneva is concerned, that was made on the instructions of a British Government of the day. If he believed, as he did and was entitled to believe, that he was carrying out the will and intention of the Government, it is up to the Government to support him in the difficult job he has at the moment.
He goes beyond it and says quite clearly that whatever may be said by those representatives who speak sincerely on behalf of the Jews, the Mandate indicates that we have an equally clear obligation to the Arabs. The Mandate presupposes Arab and Jew working together. Any other conception of Palestine would, in the long run, be disastrous to the Jews in Palestine. Even if you assume it for one moment, because there may be a temporary triumph of Jewry over the Arab, in the end it would be a profound mistake and disaster. Therefore, when the High Commissioner, with all his experience and knowledge says to the Government of the day: "I ask you to give effect, not to my pledge but to the pledge that you instructed me to give," no Government can disregard that advice. When he goes beyond it and says that in his solemn judgment to go back on that pledge at this moment would be as disastrous to the Jews as it would be to the future of Palestine, and that in his judgment and experience all the magnificent development to which all speakers have paid tribute, is the best proof that in economic affairs both Arab and Jew working together, the House will make a profound mistake in assuming that Arab and Jew do not work together in Palestine. The High Commissioner believes that the same spirit can be developed in the political field.
§ Mr. THOMAS
When it is proved that they work together in the economic field there is justification for hope of their working together in the political field. I answer on behalf of the Government that 1111 every Government and every party who reverse this policy must reverse their previous decision, whether they be Labour, Liberal, Conservative or Coalition. I go beyond that, and I say that so far as adequate safeguards are concerned, the Mandate is ruled out, the question of the Jewish agency is ruled out and every effort is made to prevent this being made a platform for sedition. Equally, it gives an opportunity for Jew and Arab working together in a legislative assembly and getting an insight into government' and responsibility. In the considered judgment of the High Commissioner he believes that this will be in the best interests of both Jew and Arab. It is on this ground that the Government feel compelled to endorse this policy and I hope that I have been fair to the House in stating it frankly and entirely.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Everyone will agree with the Colonial Secretary in the emphasis which he laid on the importance of keeping pledges and not turning back from a course upon which you have embarked. Above all, keep engagements which you have entered into or foreshadowed at Geneva. He devoted an immense amount of force and argument to sustaining that proposition, but I am not aware that anyone in any part of the House had attempted to challenge it. The question which somewhat escaped notice in his statement was what exactly the pledge was. Under this formidable deployment of his argument in favour of keeping pledges, he kept very nicely in the background what, after all, is an essentially practical point which lies before us this afternoon: What was the pledge?
My right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) in a pertinent interruption, very patiently and courteously received by the Minister, put his finger upon this spot. The pledge, as I understand it, that was given at Geneva, and the policy which the Government have been pursuing all these years since the days when I was Colonial Secretary in 1922, was to move steadily forward into legislative self-governing institutions. That is the process which we are engaged in following out, but the issues which arise now are, has the moment come to take this step, and is this the right way in which to take it? 1112 On those two issues very little light was thrown by my right hon. Friend. The word "experiment" has been used. When we made our undertakings at Geneva there was to be an experiment in municipal local government. If that experiment succeeded or an assurance was given that the Arabs urderstood how this matter was worker, then there was to be a forward movement into the larger sphere of central government.
That seemed to me a very sensible undertaking, and the right way to do it. Indeed, if my memory roes back to other controversies and other Parliaments, I seem to recollect that, some of us held the strong argument that the development of provincial autonomy in India should precede in India the development of the federal system, just as in the same way on a much smaller scale, to get the people of Palestine used to the local institutions and making a, success of those before you decide upon the central experiment, would seem to commend itself to ordinary reasonable people.
I was reading a Debate which took place in another place, where very detailed statements were made of the extremely slow and unsatisfactory development of these local or municipal institutions in Palestine. Indeed, we have not been without criticism even before the League of Nations upon the slow development of the local governments in Palestine. I have not the figures at my fingers' end, but there are a great many districts and municipalities in Palestine at the present time where the Arabs have been quite incapable of affording elements out of which these local institutions could be made. Why cannot you continue your educative process a little longer? Why cannot you be a little more patient in your experiment? We are not going to quarrel about the ultimate goal. By all means let us move forward step by step towards the central organisation of a legislative council for Palestine. The Colonial Secretary said that these experiments in local government have been going on for years, but on examination these several years turned out to be rather more than one year. That is a very brief experiment, with a race like the Arabs and conditions so deplorable, as we have been told they are, in respect of the progress made by local government—that is a very short 1113 period, after which to hurry on to the second step.
Of course, if you nave, and when you have behind you a really successful example of the working of local government, when you have come to the point of Arab municipalities conducting their affairs with anything like the progressive vigour that is shown by the Jewish community, and when you have come to the point of the whole principle of local government having been implemented by the good will and activities of the population, your case will be enormously stronger for a forward movement. Then you will be fulfilling exactly the pledge which was given at Geneva and fulfilling it in the way in which it was intended to be fulfilled. This idea of producing a central Constitution, is much too lightly entered upon. I was reading in "The Times" newspaper this morning of the deplorable conditions which have developed in Ceylon from over-hasty action—another province of activities which fall within the supervision of my right hon. Friend.
From the point of view of the pledge and of the interests of the Arabs themselves as well as from the point of view of the whole of Palestine, it would be most unwise to take this plunge at this moment. I am very much impressed by the consensus of opinion against it. In reading the Debate in another place, I was astonished to see the names of the different noble Lords who spoke against the proposal. They represented every party, the Labour Opposition as well as the Conservative so-called die-hards, and men of great philanthropic detachment like Lord Lytton and Lord Cecil. These men, who are certainly not men to urge the breaking of pledges or to suggest reactionary policies to Parliament, seemed united that this is not the wise thing to do at this moment and this is not the right moment in which to do it.
I may say that I respect the Colonial Secretary standing up for the opinion of the Governor. You could not have a better Governor, a man of the very greatest ability in every way, but, at the same time, these matters ought not to be settled by the opinion of one man. Parliament has great responsibility and is not prepared to say that a Colonial Governor, however eminent he may be, who takes a view-point on a particular matter must necessarily have his view 1114 enforced upon Parliament. Parliament has other responsibilities. The right hon. Gentleman has assured us that the Mandate and the Balfour Declaration are safe, but I personally feel great doubts about that. If you have an Arab majority, undoubtedly you will have continued friction between the principle of the Balfour Declaration and the steps that must be taken day by day and month by month to give effect to that Declaration and the wishes of the Arab majority. I should have thought it would be a very great obstruction to the development of Jewish immigration into Palestine and to the development of the national home of the Jews there.
I have no hostility for the Arabs. I think I made most of the settlements over 14 years ago governing the Palestine situation. The Emir Abdullah is in Transjordania, where I put him one Sunday afternoon at Jerusalem. I acted upon the advice of that very great man Colonel Lawrence, who was at my side in making the arrangements, which I believe have stood the test of time and many changes of government throughout the Middle East. But I cannot conceive that you will be able to reconcile, at this juncture and at this time, the development of the policy of the Balfour Declaration with an Arab majority on the Legislative Council. I do not feel a bit convinced of it, even though Sir Andrew Walker may be of that opinion. I do not feel convinced when I see so many other people who have studied the matter, and who are friends of Palestine, friends of the Arabs, friends of the Jews, who view this departure at the present moment with the very greatest misgiving.
We are doing very fine work in Palestine at the present moment. When I travelled through the country a little more than a year ago I was enormously impressed with the order and smoothness with which the administration was being conducted. If you go into neighbouring countries, like Syria, you see that there is also order and progress, but enormous military forces are used. Scores of thousands of troops are maintained in the country. I always consider that our administration must be judged, in comparison with these countries, not by the fact that they can govern with overwhelming military forces—anyone can do that—but that we can conduct progressive administration with 1115 the comparatively small forces that we employ in those areas.
Do not be in a hurry to overturn the existing system. It is working very well. It it not as though it had got into such a state that you said that you could not go on any more with the present administration, and that, although your local government institutions have completely failed up to date, or have made no success of their experiment, nevertheless you must plunge into the larger field. That is not the position. You are in the full tide of a successful experiment in British administration and your local government is moving forward in a very slow manner. Surely, therefore, you can afford to wait for some other time. Does the right hon. Gentleman mean to say that if, under the advice of Parliament or under the persuasion which reaches him from any quarter, he decided that this matter could not go forward this year or next year, but that he would wait for some other time—does he suggest that he would feel himself guilty of a breach of faith, of a breaking of the pledge given to the League of Nations? It is absurd. I have not the slightest doubt that, if our representatives at Geneva explained the position as it has been explained in this House from every bench, they would get cordial support for not taking this step at the present moment, from the authority whom they have a right to consult.
I have been speaking of this matter in connection with Palestine, but of course, there is in our minds an added emphasis upon this question of Jewish migration which comes from other quarters, at a time when the Jewish race in a great country is being subjected to most horrible, cold, scientific persecution, brutal persecution, a cold "pogrom" as it has been called—people reduced from affluence to ruin, and then, even in that position, denied the opportunity of earning their daily bread, and cut out even from relief by grants to tide the destitute through the winter; their little children pilloried in the schools to which they have to go; their blood and race declared defiling and accursed; every form of concentrated human wickedness cast upon these people by overwhelming power, by vile tyranny. I say that, when that is the case, surely 1116 the House of Commons will not allow the one door which is open, the one door which allows some relief, some escape from these conditions, to be summarily closed, nor even allow it to be suggested that it may be obstructed by the course which we take now.
All I can say is that I hope my right hon. Friend will consider this matter very carefully. This is the Consolidated Fund Bill, and we cannot divide upon this matter, but I trust that, unless the Government give far more satisfactory undertakings than have fallen from my right hon. Friend this afternoon, the two Opposition parties, who have control of the Supply days, will choose a Supply day at a suitable time hen we can bring this matter, not merely to the test of Debate, but also to the test of a Division.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ Mr. MATHERS
I only wish to follow the Colonial Secretary for the simple purpose of dealing with one of the points that he made. I came into the House when he was invoking the name of Dr. Drummond Shiels, and, as I understood him, claiming in that way to justify the position that he is taking up to-day. He quoted what Dr. Drummond Shiels had said at Geneva while a Labour Government was in office in this country. I am able to give him more up-to-date information with regard to the point of view of Dr. Drummond Shiels, who was Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies in the Labour Administration. From a letter written within the last few weeks, discussing some of these points, I am able to give his point of view. In dealing with the Ceylon Constitution he points out that the intention of the Donoughmore Commission was that there should not be—there was not, of course, in Ceylon—communal representation, and that the functions of the executive officers of State should be advisory. I think that perhaps the easiest way for me to express the opinion of Dr Drummond Shiels, which I fully endorse, is to read his letter, instead of endeavouring to put it in my own words. He says:The Donoughmore, Commission had very definitely in mind the needs of other parts of the Colonial Empire, and their proposals were intended to form a set of principles which might be applied as occasion offered in the general development of self-government. In the Palestine Proposals, however, we are back to a scheme which, as Mr. Wedgwood points out"—1117 the right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) had been writing to the "Times" at that period—failed badly in Cyprus, and is likely to have worse effects in the difficult conditions of Palestine. Communal representation is, admittedly, the worst basis for any constitution. It has, unfortunately, been retained unchanged in India, as it was not thought possible even to institute the halfway house which would have made its later abolition simpler. There is no reason, however, why we should begin it in Palestine, where it will certainly prevent that ultimate co-operation of Jews and Arabs in government and administration which is the only hope for the peaceful working out of the problems of that fascinating but troubled country. Apart from this grave objection to the form of the proposed council"—I want the right hon. Gentleman to note this:I am convinced that any legislative body in Palestine at this time is a mistake. I am not influenced by the objections of the Jewish authorities (which are natural enough), but because I believe that the effective development of local self-governing bodies should precede any national or state legislature. It is often forgotten that the development and strength of democratic institutions in this country have their origin and sound basis in our long history of local government, and it is admitted that our most useful Parliamentarians are those who have had training and experience in local bodies.His concluding paragraph is as follows:In Palestine, apart from Jerusalem and Haifa, and, of course, Tel-Aviv, there is little development of municipalities and local councils. Those already in being have been most useful in enabling Arabs and Jews to work out together solutions to their common problems. Let this process continue and extend, and in good time there will be a reservoir of available representatives, with some experience of administration, who can be elected, on a constituency basis, to serve the whole community. Better this than a council which will be a mere forum for communal strife, which will neglect the practical needs of the people, and be a perpetual embarrassment to the Mandatory power.It is to express that opinion, and to bring up to date the right hon. Gentleman's view with regard to my friend, with whom I was associated while the Labour Government was in office, to endorse my friend's opinion, and, indeed, to express that opinion as my own, that I have ventured to intervene in this Debate. I hope I have shown that the right hon. Gentleman is not quite justified to-day in quoting, as I assumed him to 1118 do, the attitude of Dr. Drummond Shiels at Geneva, while Labour was in office, as an indication of the position in which he stands to-day.
§ 6.13 p.m.
After the brilliant speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), it seems almost unnecessary for anyone to take up the cudgels to-day on behalf of the Jewish National Home in Palestine, nor is it easy to find any other argument to try to deter the Government from taking what I believe to be the very rash and dangerous step which they contemplate taking at the present moment. I was glad to hear certain of the observations of the Colonial Secretary—for instance, with regard to the fact that no change is contemplated in the organisation of the Jewish Agency in Palestine, and that there is to be no change in regard to those Jews who can produce £1,000 capital, and who, by that fact alone, will continue to be admitted straight away into Palestine. But the mere fact that it was in contemplation to increase that amount shows that forces have been at work to try to prevent or deter a continuation of that policy, to which I believe we are not only vitally committed, but in the working out of which the British Empire may look forward in Palestine to a country which in the near future may contribute very considerably both to its prosperity and to its safety in that part of the world.
It is almost impossible for a Debate on Palestine to take place without some Members trying to deplore the fact that we ever accepted the Mandate for Palestine, or that we ever accepted the Balfour Declaration for the establishment of a Jewish National Home; but it is no use going back on that. Whatever may have been the arguments used in those times, or used again to-day, we have to face the position as it is, and anyone who occupies the post of either Colonial Secretary or High Commissioner must, we all recognise, have a very difficult task indeed in reconciling the interests of the Jews and the Arabs. I am very glad indeed to hear in all parts of the House words of praise of the tact and sympathy that the present High Commissioner has shown in the last two years. Nothing, after all, is to be gained in the long run by trying to play 1119 off one community against the other. The Colonial Secretary has explained that we are committed to the establishment of some form of responsible Government at the centre but, as I understand it, we are committed neither to the time nor to the details. Therefore, although we appreciate the difficult position in which he is put to-day, it really does not seem to me to be an insuperable problem that by some means or other we should be able to defer the setting up of this legislative council without being accused by the Arabs or by any one at Geneva of having broken our promises.
After all, what is it intended to do? As I understand it, we are going to enfranchise some 250,000 or more people, the large majority of whom are completely illiterate. They have had practically no experience whatever in representative Government or in the manner in which they should exercise the vote and, however you like to interpret the numbers of the proposed legislative council, as a matter of fact it will develop into an Arab majority. Every question, therefore, that is raised will be debated purely on racial lines without any attention whatever to the merits of the case itself. The Arabs themselves have on many occasions definitely stated that they are prepared to join the Legislative Council because they believe it will be the best means of defeating the objects of the Balfour Declaration. Only last Friday in a leader in an organ of the Arabs which is usually noted for its moderate views the following passage occurred:We shall be able to use the Legislative Council for exposing the policy of the Jewish national home and arraigning His Majesty's Government before the Moslem and Christian world for upbuilding the national home.Surely, if that is to be the attitude of the majority of the members of the Legislative Council, it does not promise well either for the harmony of its working or for the effectiveness with which it could possibly carry out any legislation. Reference has been made to the experience of the municipal council. I believe the facts are that up to a year or two ago there was a municipal council operating in Jerusalem. It consisted originally of eight Arabs and four Jews and, as long as the majority was in the hands of the Arabs, it was absolutely impossible to 1120 do anything. The Jews merely had to suggest something to have it immediately turned down. It is only fair to say that in the last part of 1934 a municipal ordinance was issued and the representatives were changed to six Jews and six Arabs with an Arab chairman and since that time, although I would not say it has been a great success, they have put up some useful work. [Interruption.] Although that fact can be used, it must never be used without also mentioning that the electorate on which it was based was entirely different from that on which it is proposed to elect the Legislative Council.
No doubt, there may come a time when it may be right to build up some responsible Government at the centre, but I do not believe that time is now, nor do I believe that the details that the right hon. Gentleman proposes to-day are likely to make for harmonious future. Of course, the idea is that one day you may hope to find, out of those who constitute the youth of the country to-day, a body of people who will put a local national pride in Palestine before the question of either Arab or Jewish nationality. After all, such a thing did not look very possible in South Africa some years ago, but to a very large extent among the younger generation of South Africa there has grown up a body of opinion which is South African in its point of view rather than pro-Dutch or pro-English. Certainly there are no very definite signs of that spirit in Palestine to-day. I know that the argument can be used against my attitude in regard to the Indian legislation last year, but we have had in the past few years in Cyprus and in Kenya, and very recently in Ceylon, the deplorable effects of trying to make what I believe to be a purely artificial system of Government work in countries where neither the intelligence nor the experience of the inhabitants is fitted to work in with that kind of Government. Do not let us make the mistake again that we have made in those Crown Colonies.
The position seems to me to be this. Everyone desires to get out of this situation. The Jews in Palestine will have nothing to do with it. The Jews outside Palestine are unanimously against it. No one in this country as far as I can make out, supports it. The Secretary of State, if I can judge his opinion, is not 1121 really very enthusiastic about it. I should not be at all surprised if the High Commissioner, who is to be responsible for the effects of it in the next few years, if he could with honour see his way out of it, would not also welcome it. As far as I can make out, the Arabs are divided. In any event they are going to get very little out of it except to put off the day when they and the Jews can settle down together and work out a practical policy. As Chateaubriand once said:I know that people beat their heads against an existing wall, but I have never known people first building a stone wall and then beating their heads against it.It seems to me that the Government, in supporting the establishment of a Legislative Council, are perhaps performing this curious function.
May I say a few words in regard to the question of land? The right hon. Gentleman who spoke from the Liberal benches gave a great many facts, and it is extremely useful that the House should know that there has been a great deal of propaganda in the last few months suggesting that the policy that we have been pursuing has acted to the detriment of the Arabs, and that there are hordes of landless Arabs turned out of their property by the Jews. Nothing is further from the fact. It has been calculated that, if the Jews continued to purchase for a 100 years at the same maximum rate as they have been purchasing land, something like 14,000 or 15,000 acres a year, they would not even then own half the cultivable area of Palestine. After all, surely a very acid test is this: Has the existing condition of affairs reacted against the real interests of the Arabs? If so, why has there been an increase in the Arab population? Why has there been a desire on the part of Arabs in Egypt, Transjordania and Syria to come into Palestine? Because there the conditions are better, wages are higher, and they are more likely to get jobs than in the surrounding country. If there is one thing that the Arabs want, and must have, to develop their land, it is money. Where are they to get it from if not from the Jews? Are the Government going to lend them an unlimited supply of money? The most prosperous Arab farms are in the Jewish districts. The Arabs must have money to develop their land, to pay off their debts, to bore wells for water and to buy implements. All these neces- 1122 sities have been provided in a very large measure by the advent of the Jews, and if you deny to the Arab the right to sell a portion of his land, you not only make that portion perfectly useless to him, but you deprive him of getting that very money which will enable him, and has enabled him in thousands of cases, to develop what is left to him and become, as many thousands of others have become, prosperous farmers.
I intervene in the Debate, not because I have a great knowledge of Palestine, but primarily because I am a descendant of a Huguenot family. On account of religious persecution in France vast numbers of Huguenots 250 years ago had to secure a refuge in other countries and, if it had not been for the generous hospitality given to my ancestors, and thousands of others similarly placed, by England, by Holland and by America, I certainly should not be standing here to-day. I say it humbly, but I do not think that that generosity which was extended to the Huguenots in those days has reacted unfavourably to the countries that accepted them. To-day once again the greatest religious persecution that we have known for hundreds of years is taking place. I am not suggesting that Palestine should immediately accommodate 300,000 or 400,000 Jews, who would only too willingly leave Germany if they were able to do so, but in the eyes of persecuted Jews, particularly in Germany, freedom and hope for themselves and for their families is so intimately associated with the work that we are doing in Palestine, with the idea that if they can once leave Germany they may at some future time find peace, and find the hope of a livelihood for themselves and their families in Palestine, that to take any action to-day which is going to be a check upon that policy, which is going to be immediately interpreted as a revision of the policy that we have so far pursued, is going to deal to a large body of people who, obviously, have the keen sympathy of everyone in the House, a blow which, I believe, will be as cruel to them as, in the long run, it will be against the best interests both of Palestine and of this country.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
On a point of Order. May I draw attention to the fact that this is a Colonial Debate which is not going unanimously in favour of the Government, and is it not due to the House that there should be on the 1123 Government Bench a representative to take charge of this matter?
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ Colonel CLIFTON BROWN
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) has initiated a very interesting Debate, and although I cannot entirely share all his views, the Debate has certainly been of great help. Speakers have suggested that perhaps it was not quite the time to go in for legislative proposals, that the prosperity of Palestine was so great and the revenue was coming in so well, that we might have more usefully employed ourselves by introducing schemes of land development and so on, which would cost some money to the Palestine Budget. I wonder whether the Palestine Budget is really as safe as all that. We know that there is a big surplus. The country depends upon capital which is coming in from the Jews. It is coming in small amounts, and is not being expended largely on productive enterprise. I believe that the Palestine Government is wise in husbanding its financial resources, and that the day may come when the revenue may not flow in so well. The competition in regard to the production of oranges is so great that one realises that the price will have to fall, and when it does, the price of land will probably go down also. Much of the land has been bought on borrowed money and thus there are dangers ahead, and I doubt whether the Palestine Government would be wise in spending money recklessly.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Chippenham (Captain Cazalet) painted a background in Europe. I would remind them that it is an Eastern background, and one which must not be neglected. We are all most sorry for the Jews and their sufferings, but we should remember that Palestine is only a small country and part of a big continent where there are millions of Arabs in Iraq and in Arabia and right down the Hejaz. These countries constitute our means of communication with the East, and if the inhabitants are not, at any rate, friendly, our material communications may be endangered. There are two points of view, 1124 and we must include the Arabs of the East. It is reasonable to understand how much the Arabs fear the invasion of the Jews. They find them going into a country which they regard as sacred, and taking their land—it flay be by purchase—and they realise that, as far as the Western world goes, the Jew is able to pull the strings in this Parliament, and at Geneva or elsewhere more than they can ever hope to do. While the dangers may not be so great as they imagine, fear is at the back of their minds, and fear perhaps is one of the greatest dangers to peace. We shall do wrong if we minimise that fact. The High Commissioner came to London two years ago. He had already announced his intention of proposing a council. He went back from London not having achieved his object, and Arab confidence in the Commissioner at that time was severely shaken. If he has his proposals rejected now, his position as far as the Arabs are concerned would be made extremely difficult.
I beg of the House to realise that this is not a matter to be thought of lightly. It is not a country where matters are debated in a Chamber like the Parliament in this country, but a country where blood feuds still exist. If the High Commissioner once lost the trust that the Arabs now have in him, we should require soldiers and have to face what we had to go through seven years ago. There will not only be a far worse situation throughout Palestine, but throughout the bordering countries as well. In view of this, it is important that we should do something now, and not let matters hang on and the proposed Council be delayed much longer. There is another very important function which a council could perform. The Palestine Press is either Jew or Arab—none of it is neutral—and it is very difficult with a biased Press on each side to formulate public opinion. If you once set up a council or parliament of some sort with the High Commissioner in control, you could get the arguments of the Government and of one side or the other known and dealt with. Is would not matter bow biased the Press might be, for whether they were Arab or Jew, they would have to put up the arguments, and you would begin in that way to formulate public opinion which it was not possible to formulate in any other way.
1125 The Council, even if badly composed, would be, I think, of very great value in helping to form a Palestinian public opinion. That would be one of the most important functions of the Council. Why should my Jewish friends mind because they have not a majority? They have their great municipal councils of Tel-Aviv and Jaffa which are mainly run by Jews. They have all the experience and a superior technique, and should be able to carry the day. It is not merely a question of numbers, but of brains very often, and of organisation. I should have thought that the Jews would have had nothing to fear in a Chamber in which, although the Arabs have an actual majority over the Jews, there is a balancing factor in the way of official members and those appointed on the commercial side.
On those grounds the Government were absolutely right in backing Sir Arthur Wauchope. I think that I am the only Member in this Debate who has said so. I have been in the habit of going out to Palestine ever since the time of Sir John Chancellor. I have been almost every year and I know something about those Eastern countries. I suggest that the present is a good time for two reasons. One is that you have a Commissioner in Sir Arthur Wauchope, who, admittedly, is responsible for much of the improvement which has taken place in Palestine since the riots of seven years ago. This is the man who proposes that we should set up a Council now. He has had his period of office extended, I suppose, by five years. Is it not really common sense, if a man is making a success of his job and if he makes a proposal, to carry out that proposal while he is still there and able to start it, and to see it on its way? Having set our hands to the plough and said that we are going to do it, it would be fatal to our prestige, and to the way we control and have the trust of Jews and Arabs in Palestine, if we back out now. We have allowed our High Commissioner to say that we were going to do it, and it would be folly and unfair to Palestine if we backed out and failed to establish that which we promised to give to them.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ Mr. HOPKIN
Hon. Members in all parts of the House will agree that in dealing with modern Palestine we are 1126 dealing with a modern miracle, and the only question is whether this modern miracle has been created at the expense of the Arabs. I should certainly not stand here and oppose as vigorously as I can the establishment of this Legislative Council, if I thought that the entrance of the Jews into Palestine had in any way done an injustice to the Arabs. I contend that quite the opposite is true. This is shown in two cases. First of all, one notices that the Arab population, particularly around Jewish colonies, has increased to the extent of 28 per cent. Over and above that, from 15,000 to 25,000 other Arabs have come in from surrounding countries and have all found work in Palestine itself. It is only necessary to take the road up the Vale of Sharon to compare the differences in the Arab villages with the Arab villages on the hills. Wherever the Arabs have been able to sell their land in order to get capital they have there and then built much better houses, and they have most certainly a higher standard of living. I fought in Palestine for about 15 months, and I again visited it in 1929, and I had the same experience as everyone who has ever been to Palestine. The differences in the years between 1919 and 1929 are simply astonishing. There are new towns and villages, and the whole country has been cultivated, and indeed, the whole face of the country has been changed. That is what has been done in the last 15 years in Palestine.
It is well to emphasise the point that was brought out by my right hon. Friend, that the Jews own only 5 per cent. of the cultivable land in Palestine, and we are dealing now with a country only the size of Wales. From 1930 to 1933 the Jews bought 23,400 acres, and Sir John Hope Simpson says that there are altogether in the whole country 2,000,000 acres of land which are cultivable. It is one of the signs of the tremendous success when one knows that the Budget surplus in 1935 in this very small country came to £6,200,000 and that in 1922 the exports of this country amounted to only £1,000,000 and in 1935 to £4,500,000. There is another way of showing how the land has changed. In 1922 the number of cases of oranges exported was 1,250,000; in 1935 in was 7,500,000. I use as an example to show the change that is taking place in Palestine the changed conditions in the Vale of Esdraelon, which is in the 1127 North of Palestine and comprises some 50 or 60 square miles of territory. The High Commissioner in his report 1920-25 on the administration of Palestine says of the Vale of Esdraelon:When I first saw it in 1920 it was a desolation. Four or five small and squalid Arab villages, long distances apart from one another, could be seen on the summits of low hills here and there. For the rest the country was uninhabitable There was not a house, not a tree.That was the picture in 1920. In 1935 there were something like 35 villages with schools. The area is now occupied by 9,000 to 10,000 Jews. Formerly only 688 Arabs lived on the same land. With regard to the point about displaced Arabs, this is one of the examples which shows that there is no merit at all in the argument that a number of Arabs were displaced. Of the 688 Arabs who were displaced from the area 437 found farms in other parts of the country, in fact, of these 688 people only 41 of them could not be traced. Every one of the others has either been placed on a farm or has gone into the towns to work. I desire to draw the attention of the Secretary of State to the terms of Article 2 and Article 6 of the Mandate:The Mandatory shall he responsible for placing the country under such political, administrative, and economic conditions as will secure the establishment of the Jewish National Home as laid down in the Preamble to the Mandate, and the development of self-governing institutions.With great respect, I submit that if the idea and policy of the Legislative Council is continued, the terms of the Mandate cannot possibly be carried out. I am going to make a personal appeal to the right hon. Gentleman. He is a Welshman like myself. Is it going to be said in the future that one great Welshman set Palestine up and that another great Welshman by his action in this legislative council, completely ruined it? On the one side we are bound by the terms of the Mandate, and on the other side the right hon. Gentleman's policy will undoubtedly set up proposals which will make the Mandate completely impossible. I entirely agree with the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) when he says that more should be done to develop municipal government. I have the figures for the district of Jerusalem. In that district there are 164,000 people but only 1,934 electors; that was in 1934. If the 1128 Secretary of State wants to put things right and on a democratic basis, he should start with the Moslem Supreme Council, the members of which have been the same for years. They are not appointed on any democratic principle whatever.
§ Mr. HOPKIN
Certainly. I was there at a time when the two peoples were warring against each other and the one thing which produced thy greatest hatred between the two was this Moslem Supreme Council. The right hon. Gentleman knows that if the head of that council had had a greater loge for peace and conciliation, 1929 would have been impossible. But in addition to this council, it is proposed to deal with the land question. Let me read the terms to the House.The Secretary of State approves in principle of the enactment of legislation whereby, except in the sub-district of Beersheba and in the urban areas and also except as regards land planted with citrus, no landowner shall be permitted to sell any part of his land unless he retains a minimum area which is sufficient to afford a means of subsistence to himself and his family; as a safeguard against collusive sales this minimum area shall be inalienable and shall revert to the Government if it ceases to be cultivated by the owner-occupier.The point has already been made that this land under these conditions is utterly useless to the owners There is this further point, that there is no indication in that statement as to the size of these subsistence areas. The question of the displacement of Arabs is always brought up as an excuse for dealing with this land trouble. In 10 years there have been 654 Arabs displaced, and of these every one of them was offered land, but only a very small proportion took up the land which was offered. I suggest that the right and best way to deal with this problem is to follow the policy adopted in an area known as the swamp of Huleh, in the northern part of the country, which consists of some 40,000 dunams. The; e dunams have been handed over to a Jewish company to drain and cultivate, and 16,000 dunams have been set aside for the exclusive use of the Arabs. I submit that the right hon. Gentleman could carry on precisely the same system with 1129 advantage on the lands at Beisan. Further, I suggest that instead of going on with this legislative council, the right hon. Gentleman should deal with the law relating to land in Palestine and stop the wholesale encroachments which take place now. In fact a number of law cases have been undertaken quite unnecessarily at tremendous expense to the Jewish owners. I refer particularly to the Hartieh group, the land of which, I believe, has been the subject of about half a dozen law suits.
I suggest that Palestine can be extended in two ways: First, by the inclusion of Transjordania; and, secondly, by intensive cultivation. This country has two great opportunities in Palestine. In the first place—this is an argument which I am sure will appeal to the right hon. Gentleman—there are our Imperial duties. This is a country which can be made great and useful to the Empire, lying as it does across one of the nerves from this country to the Far East. By encouraging the Jewish population in Palestine he will provide in the country itself an industrial population which will be more than useful to this country in case of war. In the second place, Palestine is for thousands and thousands of Jews a haven of rest, and it is up to this country to keep the door open—I am certain the right hon. Gentleman will do nothing to close the door if we decide to keep it open—for the people particularly of Germany and of Poland. Those who have read a book called "Yellow Spot" will have had brought home to them in a way that nothing else has brought it home, the infamy of the people in Germany in treating the Jewish people in the way they are being treated now. The Jews in Germany and in Poland are looking to Palestine as a last resource of help. I ask the right hon. Gentleman, who himself belongs to a small nation, to do nothing to close down the only hope which is now in the breasts of thousands of people who are looking to Palestine as their last place of refuge.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Mr. AMERY
The speech of the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin) has emphasised, as indeed every speech in the Debate has emphasised, the fact that there is absolutely no inconsistency between the fulfilment of our mandatory obligation of setting up and encouraging 1130 a Jewish home in Palestine, and our obligation to look after the welfare of the Arab population. Both obligations are equally important, and it is well that the point of view of the Arab should be ventilated in this House, as it was in the interesting and attractive speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Hexham (Colonel Clifton Brown). The real question raised in connection with the setting up of this proposed constitution is whether we can possibly reconcile the fulfilment of our duty under the Mandate with any attempt to give concessions to, or try to curry favour with, Arab nationalism. The two things are incompatible, and when it comes to the actual decision to create this new constitution, I cannot help noting the fact that the announcement in Palestine was made, not in response to any appeal from any large section of Members of this House, or to any appeal on the part of the Mandates Commission at Geneva, but as an answer to the memorandum of an Arab political party, who demanded the immediate creation of democratic government, an immediate prohibition on further Jewish immigration and an immediate prohibition on further sales of land to Jews in Palestine. They were demanding the direct abandonment of the whole mandatory pledge that we had given internationally, and to which we are committed.
It would have been better if such an appeal had met with a direct and straight answer. The answer that was given was somewhat evasive and diffident. It said that there was no question of total prohibition of immigration: that would be governed by economic circumstances. It said that there was no question of no land being sold: there would be legislation which would prevent a good deal of the land being sold. It said that there would be a largely democratic constitution. I do not believe that is the spirit which conduces either to prosperity or to peace. As to the time at which the constitution is to be introduced, I need not say more than was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping. The natural instinct in this House is to believe that the Government is the body to judge best of the times and occasions in these matters, and all sections in this House have a great respect for the character and abilities of Sir Arthur Wauchope. 1131 Yet there is something about the manner in which these proposals have been introduced that makes us doubtful whether this is the best time that has been chosen.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
I want to make it clear that it is not the duty of a Secretary of State to transfer his responsibility to a Governor. If there has been any impression created to the contrary I want to remove it straightaway. The Government of the day, whether right or wrong, take the responsibility. Sir Arthur Wauchope only gives effect to it. I hope there will be no suggestion of blaming Sir Arthur Wauchope. He is performing a difficult and delicate task. Do not blame the man who is doing his job.
§ Mr. AMERY
I am delighted my right hon. Friend has said this. I hope nothing I have said could suggest that the responsibility was placed anywhere except where it constitutionally belongs. But I do not wish to discuss the question of time so much as the method employed. This constitution has some rather peculiar features. The qualifications demanded of Mr. Speaker, and the powers entrusted to him, are rather remarkable. I do not know how far you, Sir, would welcome them with enthusiasm. He has apparently to preside over an Assembly which talks in Arabic, Hebrew and English, and to be guided by an interpreter whether the speeches are in order or not, whether they are seditious and should not be printed, or whether they touch on the Mandate and should be stopped. The question that occurs to me is—is the interpreter to be a Jew or an Arab? At once the whole political problem is raised there. Apart from that interesting feature, this constitution is one of a, stock type, with an extraordinary lack of originality. In conditions so novel and peculiar as those of Palestine we are reverting to an old-fashioned type, and we trust to the official vote balancing the conflict between the members.
Where you have a majority hostile to the very existence of a minority, determined on every occasion to give effect to that hostility, what is the result? The result is that the Government and the official members are put into a wholly false and, in the long run, an impossible position. They are continually put into 1132 the position of backing one element in the Chamber against the other, and when they have done that four or five times in succession the desire to show themselves impartial by voting the other way on the sixth occasion becomes almost irresistible. The consequence is that you get the wish of the minority given effect to gradually, and tae Government put into a wholly false position. That was the position in which the Government was placed for a long time in Cyprus.
If you are to set up any form of representative institutions in Palestine I suggest that the burden of defending the minority must not be thrown on the shoulders of the Government exclusively. The constitution should have its own inherent check to protect the minority. It was from that point of view that the right hon. Member the leader of the Liberal party (Sir A. Sinclair) made the by no means unreasonable proposition that each community should have equal representation. The essence of the mandate is the equal right of the two communities in the country; the right of the Jew to go to his national home as freely as the right of the Arab to stay in his national home. Anything which makes it possible for the Arab to prevent the Jew going into Palestine is as intolerable from the point of view of the Mandate as anything which would make it possible for the Jew to expel the Arab. It is true that if you have equality it must be permanent, and the Jews must recognise clearly that if they get equality to-day they cannot claim more than equality when they become a majority in the country. But on the principle of the equal rights of the two communities it would be only right to put them in an equal position in the legislature.
There is an alternative, which I should like to suggest to the Colonial Secretary, to an actual equality of representation, and that is to make provision in the Standing Orders of whatever representative assembly is set up that no vote shall be a valid vote unless it has secured the concurrence of a majority of members of each section. That would have the same effect, and after a little while neither section would attempt to introduce measures deliberately intended to harass or prejudice the other, and there might be some hope of the two sections gradually learning to work together on matters of common interest. There is another alter- 1133 native which may be well worth exploring. In these days when we hear so much about functional representation in many parts of the world, would it be altogether absurd to try whether the first essay towards a representative institution should not be based on those economic interests in which Arab and Jew naturally come together—the citrus growers as citrus growers, cereal cultivators, dairy farmers, industrialists? There is much greater hope of an assembly on that basis, discussing essential economic problems, building up a common Palestinian patriotism and becoming an assembly into which both Jew and Arab will enter with the one object of making Palestine a success. If the Colonial Secretary has determined to go ahead now with some measure of a representative institution, I warmly support the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland that he should at any rate send out a commission—and its investigations need not take long—to inquire what would be the best method of carrying out the desire to create a representative institution without detriment to the policy of the Mandate to which we are committed.
I feel that in all this business there has been a certain lack of imagination; more than that, a certain lack of clear purpose. Do we really mean to carry through the policy of the Mandate to a successful conclusion, or not? I believe that if we do that policy will innure to the happiness of the Arab and the Jew, and all that has happened in these years confirms that. When that policy was initiated it was a pleat experiment. I remember the debates well—Lord Balfour with his immense authority behind him; against him Lord Curzon, a far greater authority on the East, who said that the proposition was impossible and fantastic; and Mr. Edwin Montagu, himself a Jew, protesting, from the point of view of Jewry, against it. Yet speech after speech this afternoon has shown not only what an immense thing this has been to the Jewish world, but what it has brought in happiness, comfort, wealth and education to the Arab population of Palestine.
To-day these arguments, advanced tentatively and in uncertainty 15 years ago, are confirmed by abundant experience. On top of them we have two additional arguments. In these days when defence problems are uppermost in our minds, we cannot forget the immense 1134 importance of Palestine as the effective air centre of the British Imperial system, not only from the point of view of protecting the Suez Canal and of guarding the Eastern Mediterranean, but from the point of view of our communications with India and the East. Palestine offers the only outlet to the Mediterranean for oil supplies under British control. Who knows whether we shall have access to American supplies in future? The importance of Haifa, both as an oil base and as a general naval base, more secure than Malta would be in certain circumstances, is very great. If we had in Palestine a prospering and developing community, bound to this country by ties of gratitude, influenced by the fact that we have made an ancient dream come true, the effect would surely be well worth keeping in mind.
There is one other reason that has been touched on by more than one speaker, notably by the right hon. Member for Epping, and that is the appalling suffering of the hapless Jewish people in Germany. I need not labour that point now. There is no question of our interfering in the internal affairs of Germany. I would not let our foreign policy be deflected in any way by consideration of these things which I deplore. But I do say that if we can help we should. Even then I would say that we were not entitled to help the suffering Jews of Germany if doing so would inflict injustice on any community for which we are responsible, as we are responsible for the Arabs.
When the whole course of the last 15 years has proved that the development of the Jewish community in Palestine has meant prosperity to the Arabs, surely we ought not to allow mere concession to political agitation by a small minority of the Arabs in Palestine to weigh against the chance of listening to the cry of agony and despair of hundreds of thousands of suffering workmen deprived of all chance of earning their daily bread, and of cultured men and women treated as lepers and outcasts. Surely at this particular moment every consideration that has justified the policy of the Mandate in the past justifies our carrying it out wholeheartedly at this moment, and not committing ourselves to any step which, in whatever degree, would defeat the successful carrying out of the policy to which we are pledged.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Mr. SILVERMAN
I apologise for troubling the House at so late a stage in the Debate which one cannot help feeling has run its course, but the House will, perhaps, not think it unfitting that there should be, if only for a few moments in this Debate, some remarks from, at any rate, one Jewish Member. Perhaps the House will permit me, speaking as a Jew, to say that one could not listen to this Debate and to the sympathy which has been expressed so equally and sincerely by everyone who has taken part in it, no matter what view he took on the particular point at issue, without feeling a certain emotion and gratitude. I think it fair and right to say that on that side, and on many other sides also, this Debate will go out to the Jewish people of the world, and in particular to some portions of it, as a gleam of light and hope in a distracted and rather tragic world.
I would not, however, invite the House to dwell too much upon the tragedy of the position of the Jewish people in so many parts of the world to-day. I do not think "tragedy" is the right word. In its long history the Jewish people has known many persecutions and many persecutors. Some of them were Empires now long past and forgotten. The Jewish people have survived many moments as tragic as the present, and those of us who belong to that race believe that it will survive this one as well. Perhaps the true tragedy in the situation is not that of the Jews, but is the tragedy of a great people, for so long foremost in the arts of culture and of civilisation, rattled back in two or three short years into primitive barbarity. It is their tragedy rather than ours which the world should deplore to-day.
I feel that on this subject it would not be fitting for me to be too highly controversial. There are certain elements in the situation which are common ground. Everyone knows that the work being done in co-operation between this nation and the Jews in Palestine under the Mandate must be carried on not merely without prejudice to the rights of the existing Arab population in Palestine, but to its benefit. I feel sure that those who are in charge of the Jewish experiments in Palestine will remember too keenly the persecutions to which their own race has been subjected throughout 1136 so many centuries, to wish at any moment to subject any other race to any kind of persecution or any treatment which would be in any way prejudicial to its interests. I recognise the tributes that have been paid from so many parts of the House not merely to the devotion and sacrifice which have gone to make the success of the Zionist experiments in Palestine, but to the fact that no single step has been taken in Palestine which has added to the civilisation of that country and advanced it on the road of civilisation which has not at the same time helped to raise the status of the whole native population. It is probably for that reason as much as for any other that the history of Palestine since the Mandate has been a happier one than that of any other Near Eastern land.
There is one thing which goes almost without saying. Some day there must be representative institutions in Palestine. It would not be possible to continue developing Palestine in this way and not be prejudicial in some manner to the rights of others unless at some stage steps were taken to ensure that every inhabitant and every category of inhabitant of Palestine should have an equal voice in the Government of that land. I think that is common ground. But what is not common ground is the question of the right moment. We suggest with the utmost respect to the Colonial Secretary that, whenever that moment may be, it is most decidedly not now. Surely it would be wrong, at a moment when the experiment which is being made is beginning to flourish and to have success, when it is beginning to serve the needs for which it was created, and when the demands upon it are greater than they have ever been, to interfere with the machinery. Now is not the moment to introduce new circumstances which cannot help that side of the experiment along.
I would like to say, with respect, that the Colonial Secretary was right to refer so much to the advice and the opinion of the High Commissioner, and I would like to recall the eloquent tribute which he paid, and which all of us would willingly pay, to the High Commissioner. But the Colonial Secretary appeared to me—and I hardly think I could have been mistaken—when giving the reasons 1137 which the High Commissioner had advanced for the advice which he had tendered to His Majesty's Government, to confine himself to the question of pledges and the redemption of pledges. I did not hear one word in the Colonial Secretary's references to the High Commissioner which seemed to indicate that the High Commissioner was recommending these proposals and their carrying out at this moment on their merits. The argument quoted from the High Commissioner was the argument that "We have said we would, and therefore we must." So far as I understood the Colonial Secretary, the question has never been that we must have this Legislative Council, and we must have it now, because it is necessary in the interests of the population on its merits and for its own sake. Has the Commissioner ever said that? Or is it merely the High Commissioner's feeling—a feeling which we all share—that when a pledge has been given it ought to be redeemed? I think the questions of the pledge that was given, the time and the manner, and the question of what things ought to take place before a Legislative Council is set up, have been sufficiently dealt with in the Debate and need no reiteration from me. But I think the House must have been struck in that part of the Colonial Secretary's speech by the fact that the argument advanced by the High Commissioner was not based on the merits of the proposal but derived from pledges which have been given.
There is one other matter to which I would like to refer. In dealing with the question of parity of representation in the Legislative Council, the Colonial Secretary gave the House the comparative figures of the Jewish population and the Arab population in Palestine, and he said that on those figures it would obviously be unreasonable and inequitable to have equal representation in numbers in the Legislative Council to represent communities whose numbers were so disproportionate. I venture to say that no one would disagree with that, for it would obviously be unreasonable and inequitable in a Legislative Council elected on democratic principles that there should be equal representation of unequal elements. Nevertheless, I am sure the Colonial Secretary must have felt the almost overwhelming 1138 weight of the arguments which showed how inequitable and how unreasonable it would be if the numbers in the Legislative Council were not equal, for reasons which have nothing to do with the proportion of Jews to Arabs in Palestine.
I suggest to the Colonial Secretary in all sincerity that the argument which he used proves that the time is premature for setting up this Legislative Council. If it be true—and I think the arguments are overwhelming on both sides—that it would be just as inequitable and unreasonable to have equal membership of the council as between Jews and Arabs as it would be to have equal numbers of representatives of Jews and Arabs on the Legislative Council—if the position is that to do one thing is to be obviously inequitable, and to do the opposite thing is also to be obviously inequitable—surely there could not possible be a more convincing demonstration of the fact that it is premature to attempt to do anything at all, and that it would be much wiser to allow the experiment to proceed, to allow to continue the forces that are now working successfully and without hardship or injustice to anybody, and to await the time when some part of the ultimate object of the experiment is achieved, when there is something much more like equality of numbers in Palestine and when there is the possibility of it being obviously equitable and reasonable to have equal representation, or something near it. Some day there will have to be representative Government, but the necessary conditions do not exist now.
I do not wish to be controversial, and perhaps I have been betrayed into being more controversial than I intended, but I wished to bring those points to the notice of the Colonial Secretary.
I would suggest to him that there is one other factor which has perhaps not been taken into account. Is it enough when you are considering the question of a legislative council to confine your attention to the number of Jews and of Arabs in Palestine? Are there not many Jews outside Palestine with a stake in this experiment and something more than a financial stake? The question has been raised here of Jewish capital. The right hon. Gentleman knows that that is not the capital of a few wealthy men. It consists of the pennies, the sixpences and the shillings of the poorest Jewish people 1139 all over the world, and it has provided a common fund, without which progress in Palestine would not have been possible. Have those people no interest in this experiment when their whole future may depend on the creation of conditions in Palestine which will enable them to live there under decent and dignified conditions? That is a point which may have been forgotten and I recommend it to the right hon. Gentleman's attention when he is considering again, if he does consider again, the question of whether this proposal is equitable or not. Once again, I would say how deep is the impression which will be produced and how great are the hopes which will be created among Jews all over the world by the sympathetic spirit in which the House to-day has approached this question.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Mr. MARCUS SAMUEL
After this Debate the Arab population in Palestine should have no doubts as to the view of the British House of Commons on this proposal for a. legislative council. It is well to concede at the outset that the British people have shouldered no easy task in endeavouring to carry out the letter and the spirit of the Balfour Declaration. To weld into one political unit two peoples of different cultures is a task which only a nation skilled in the making of constitutions would dare to attempt. We know that there have been pouring into Palestine during the last few years, young people inspired by a determination to build up a thriving homeland by the sweat of their brows, and not animated by the commercial spirit which we see to-day in many places. I see nothing impossible in the idea of collaboration between such people and the native population. I submit that the negotiations preliminary to the final draft of the new Constitution, whenever it may be decided upon, will have to be conducted in the most favourable circumstances. To conduct them in Palestine where the atmosphere is charged with remembrances of past disputes would, in my opinion, be unwise and I suggest that if London has been found the best meeting place in which to try to straighten out the European tangle, so it should be the venue for a conference between leading Arabs and Jews. We have already experienced the virtue of such a course 1140 for the difficult communal problems in the case of India would not have been satisfactorily dealt with had it not been for the Round Table Conference which took place before India's Constitution was remodelled. Speaking as an Englishman and as a man of peace I commend that suggestion to the powers that be.
§ 7.36 p.m.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
One thing has emerged from the Debates on this subject both here and in another place. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister has found but one solitary friend for this proposal. From all sides there has been emphatic opposition to the establishment of a Legislative Council in Palestine. Rightly or wrongly, the proposed council is regarded by the Jewish community as untimely, dangerous and irreconcilable with the underlying purposes of the Mandate. Nothing that the right hon. Gentleman has said has weakened that hostility to the proposals. Jewish feeling not only in Palestine and in this country, but throughout the world, is hostile to this premature movement which may disturb the relationship between Jews and Arabs in Palestine and have a decided effect on the project for the establishment of a Jewish national home. The proposed council might or might not interfere with the economic progress which has so far been made, but I am sure the Minister would do everything and anything to prevent any unfortunate incident which was calculated to affect adversely the economic and social achievements of 12 remarkable years.
I hope he will appreciate, as the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newcastle - under - Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) said, that we speak without hostility to the great Arab population in Palestine. Nor do we condemn the High Commissioner for having carried out the mandate given to him by his Government. Indeed the High Commissioner has won the golden opinions of all sections of the community for what he has done during the past five years. He is entitled to the thanks of those who are interested in this question in all parts of the world. Rather do we take the view that the interests of Arabs and Jews are so closely bound, that, while they are working in harmony—with the possible exception of a few hardened disturbers of the peace at the top—it would be folly to throw an apple of discord in their midst.
1141 All those who have been in Palestine recently have found many examples of the value of Jewish and Arab co-operation. In a very short visit which I made I found that Arabs, high and low, were benefiting from the presence of the Jewish population. But there is a genuine fear that the present development may be arrested, and the great constructive efforts which are being made, endangered, and the scheme of the national home, itself, threatened. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has given certain guarantees to-day with regard to the powers of the Legislative Council, if it is established. It seems to me, however, that the intention of the right hon. Gentleman may be one thing and the natural normal development of the assembly may prove to be another. As has been pointed out by one of the right hon. Gentleman's predecessors at the Colonial Office, things do not always work out as a Minister would desire, and the fears which have been expressed on this point in this country and elsewhere may not be without foundation.
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would be second to none in his appreciation of what has been done by the Jews in Palestine, in the last 12 years. Man power and scientific and technical knowledge have been put into the rebuilding of Palestine. Rarely in the history of the world have human beings shown such faith and devotion or thrown themselves into a task so wholeheartedly as the Jews in Palestine. In agriculture, housing, education, the establishment of social institutions they have advanced at an amazing rate, and I am sure that, even in attempting to fulfil a provisional promise, none of us would desire to do anything that would disturb the marvellous progress that is being made. It is not only a question of the Jews now resident in Palestine. There is a Jewish national fund, contributed to by residents of over 40 countries. The millions of pounds which they have put up have made it possible to purchase land, to drain it, and irrigate it and to bring agriculture and citriculture to the highest state of efficiency. There is also a foundation fund of world-wide significance and through the agency of these two funds, one for the purchase and preparation of land for cultivation and the other for the provision of houses, equipment, stock and 1142 fertilisers there is a real world influence at work in Palestine. By no stretch of imagination can one accept the Minister's figures as representing the last word in logic on this question. After all, there are greater influences than the existing population in Palestine. While no one section of the community ought to be superseded for the benefit of another, yet all sorts of factors have to be considered before we can accept the figures which have been submitted.
I base what I am saying upon the implied terms of the Mandate, namely, that a national home is to be established and migration continued, so that the land can be cultivated and settlers enabled to obtain a livelihood on smaller areas than hitherto, by the use of modern methods. I submit, therefore, that the figures which have been quoted are scarcely consistent with the original intention of the Mandate. Figures have been given here today which scarcely need repetition, but it will not be out of place to recall one or two things to illustrate the progress that has been made over a comparatively short space of time. The Minister was the first to admit that this progress had been continuous, and he referred to the Government surplus of £6,200,000. The exports for 1922 were something over £1,000,000, and by 1935 they were nearly £4,250,000. The cases of oranges exported in 1922 were 1,234,000, while by 1934-5 the number had increased to over 7,250,000, and we were informed last year that it was not at all beyond the bounds of possibility that the number of cases that would be available for export before 1937 would be round about 15,000,000.
With regard to the question of the effect upon the Arab population of the presence of the Jews, I want to give one figure to show that the presence of the Jews has been of material value to the Arabs, whether landowners or workmen, and the skill which they have brought to bear in what they have attempted to do has been so remarkable that the Arab landowners have taken advantage of the new principles adopted. In 1924 orange lands in the hands of Arabs were 22,000 metric kilometres, and by 1934 they were growing oranges over 116,000 metric kilometres. Therefore, this progress has been more or less wonderful, and despite the Government pledges, which seem to be the only justification which the Minister has for proceeding with 1143 this Measure, I think we oguht to think twice and thrice before proceeding with anything calculated to disturb this wonderful economic progress.
As to the Government pledges, for, after all, the right hon. Gentleman made them his big point to-day, saying that from 1922 every Government of every party or mixed parties had been pledged up to the hilt to establish this Legislative Assembly, what the pledge actually was was in some doubt this afternoon, and I think it would not be out of place if I were to repeat a few of the words uttered by the High Commissioner at the Twenty-seventh Session of the Permanent Mandates Commission. He said in effect that the mandatory power first referred to the future Legislative Council in 1922, and he explained to the Commission the intention of the Government regarding the formation of this Council as soon as the new Local Government Ordinance then in preparation had been brought into working order. So far as the pledge could be given, that was given, and now comes the question as to when this Local Government Ordinance will have got into working order. It seems to me that for this order to have been applied in 1934 and for the machinery to have been just set in motion, it would be a stretch of the imagination to declare that that was really in working order.
What are the facts regarding local government in Palestine? As the Colonial Secretary knows, outside Jerusalem the number of voters on the register is little more than one per cent. To what extent have they been trained in 18 months to cast an intelligent vote for members of the Legislative Assembly? In a southern district, where there are 15 Arab villages with a population of between 1,500 and 3,500, there is one local council in existence. Between 1925 and 1934 there were six fewer local councils than in 1935, so that instead of great progress, it has been a rake's progress, and I do not think the getting into order referred to by the High Commissioner can really be regarded as sufficient for the setting up of a Legislatve Assembly. Might I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention, for I know it is a delicate question for him, to this fact? If he could have said to-day that there shall be a postponement and a Royal Commission, and that further consideration shall be 1144 given to this Legislative Assembly, I am sure he would have desired to be the first Member of this House to have made such a statement. But may I recall the statement in the Chelmsford-Montagu Report, when a thorough examination had taken place with regard to the establishment of local government in another part of the world? They said:It is by taking part in the management of local affairs that aptitude for handling the problems of self-government will most readily be acquired. The unskilled elector can learn to judge of things afar only by accustoming himself to judge first of things near at hand.This is why it is of the utmost importance to the constitutional progress of the country that every effort should be made to extend the franchise, to arouse interest in elections, and to develop local committees, so that education in citizenship may as far as possible be extended.Responsible institutions will not be stably rooted until they become broad based.I think that is a very sound and logical conclusion. Here, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, we are starting at the top before we have done anything at the bottom. We are inviting people, for the first time in their lives, to cast votes for representatives on the Assembly who have never had the privilege of casting votes for a local council, and it seems to me the reverse of logic and that no real case has been made out for the Government's proposals at all events from that particular point of view.
I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is satisfied that the Arab leaders are really reconciled to the terms of the Mandate. Personally, I imagine that the Minister himself is not satisfied that they are, and in that case I can only feel that, should an Assembly be established, it will become a debating chamber, despite the prohibition of publicity by one means and another, that will tend to broaden the differences between the Arabs and the Jews and will be calculated, not to help, but to hinder economic and social progress in that country. Reference was made to my colleague Drummond Shiels when he occupied the position of Under-Secretary of State in the Labour Government. This is what he said at the Seventeenth Session of the Permanent Mandates Commission, when referring to the then outlook of the leaders of the Arabs in Palestine:The wishes of the Arabs as at present expressed could not be carried out within the terms of the Mandate, and unless the 1145 Arabs were prepared to agree to a modus vivendi which took the obligations of the British Government under the Mandate into account, negotiations with a view to self-governing institutions must necessarily be futile.Therefore, whatever some Members of the Labour Government may have thought, Drummond Shiels was in no doubt about the need for an element, of co-operation and agreement upon the fundamentals of the situation before self-governing institutions could be brought about.
Then I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, assuming that the Legislative Assembly is set up and that the High Commissioner himself is always going to veto items of business to which he and his Government are hostile, is that not going to accentuate the differences between the Arab population and the Government and between the Arabs and the Jews? Is it not inviting trouble instead of hesitating, as it were, with regard to a premature move and allowing things to smooth themselves down? On that basis I think that no case has been made out for the establishment of an Assembly at this date. It is true that, as the right hon. Gentleman said, we are definitely pledged, not only to the Arabs and to the Jews, but also to the League of Nations and, for that matter, to the whole world to set up an Assembly at the appropriate moment. The only point in question is as to what is the appropriate moment. We think that this marvellous modern miracle ought to be allowed to go on for some little time, that co-operation between the Arab and Jewish sections ought to continue, and that the Minister himself ought to do nothing at all that is calculated to arouse passions, to retard economic and social progress, or to prevent that co-operation that is taking place. I can give some instances of which perhaps the right hon. Gentleman is not aware, where real co-operation is taking place. I have seen trades unions working together, Jewish labour doing their best to educate Arab labour, trying to lead them in the way they ought to go, trying to breed happiness and contentment within co-operation, but if some of the Arab leaders can have their way, under a Legislative Assembly they will tend to destroy in the next few years what has been built up during the past 10 or 12 years.
On the question of land purchase, the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Crossley) 1146 referred to the area of land owned by the Jews, and rather implied that as a result of land purchases by the Jews, the Arab population were becoming endangered. Nothing of the kind has taken place. Indeed, from 1930 to 1934 the average purchases annually were about nine square miles, out of a. cultivable area of something over 3,000 square miles, and it seems to me that the figures given at the 27th Session, which I need not quote, give their own reply to the hon. Member for Stretford and to all those who seem to imagine that Jews are just grabbing up all the land upon which they can lay hands and turning the Arabs on to the street, without giving them a chance to earn their own livelihood on land of their own or indeed on land belonging to anyone else. Those are not the facts, and they are as remote from the facts as they well can be. When one realises the efforts that have been made to make the land more productive than was the case in the past, the amount of land that has been put to use, and the use to which it has been put, one sees that it has been a real help, not only to the Jewish population, but to the Arab population too.
I have seen myself land in the Huleh where 30 odd manufacturers, doctors, and dentists who were turned out of Germany are making a livelihood on one and a quarter acres of land each, and enjoying themselves in the process. After all, with their wonderful research department, their technical institutes, their demonstration farms, their modern implements, fertilisers, irrigation, and so on, the average Jews applying modern methods can eke out a far better existence on a small area of land than the ancient Arabs with their donkeys, oxen, or camels, could get out of a very large area of land. It seems to me, therefore, that the area of land in the Huleh Basin is a death-trap for any who attempt to live there. That concession has been handed over, but a large proportion of the land is left, or will be left, for use by the Arab population. It is real co-operation that is taking place, the sort of thing that ought to have been done hundreds of years ago. However, the point is that great and powerful progress has been made. This is to the credit not only of those abroad who have contributed to the various Jewish funds, 1147 but it is to the credit of those residents within Palestine who have made arrangements for the new immigrants, and to the new immigrants who have entered Palestine, who have been so devoted and so loyal that they have performed really a modern agricultural and vitricultural miracle.
It will be in the interest of Palestine, in the interest of the Jewish population, in the interest of this country and in the interest of good government if the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) could be adopted to-day, and a legislative assembly be set up as and when local government development has really taken place. Give the people there some education. Give them an idea of how to cast an independent vote. Let them understand who are their friends and who are their enemies, and then I am convinced that either this Ministry or any Ministry could give them a legislative assembly which would be a real one instead of a. sham, a real assembly instead of a debating chamber, and it will redound to the credit of this country and its form of government.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Major PROCTER
I wish to add one or two words to what has already been said, and to ask the Secretary for the Colonies if even at this late hour he will not consider the postponing of this Act which is proposed to be done by this House. His position, as I understand it, is this: He said that we have promised to make Palestine a national home for the Jews, and not only for the Jews who are resident in Palestine but for the Jews who live throughout the world. The promise of the national home was made to the world of Jewry, and he now thinks that the time has come when the Government should carry out its last promise, namely, to get a legislative council in which Arabs and Jews will take part. I believe that the Government in rushing this matter with undue haste are making a grave mistake. There is no period in the history of the world when the Jews have passed through so much tribulation and so much persecution, and if this country takes a step which I understand, which I sincerely believe will be regarded by the Jews throughout the world as a blow against Jewish interests, 1148 they will at once be associated with the oppressor in other lands. We shall become associated, at least in thought, with the idea that we would rather placate the Arab, even if we prevented what in my opinion is the greatest social experiment that has taken place in the world. No other country, not even Russia with its millions, has done so much in so short a time.
The Jews have taker the desert that was Arab and life has burst forth in a myriad forms. They have gone to the land—it is the greatest miracle in the world to see the Jewish people working on the land. In other lands they have been denied access to the land, they have not been allowed to learn a trade, but have been forced to use their brains. Now we see young men and young women with the ideal in their hearts to make this land ready for those who are persecuted, and for the Jews who are to come after them in the world; and for this great country, which is regarded by the Jews all over the world as being just and fair to them, to take this step, and to make it appear as if Arab opinion was of greater value to this Empire and this Government, is in my opinion making a great mistake. It is most important that whatever the Government do we should make Palestine a country full of people who are friendly towards this country. It is of immense strategical importance to this country. As to the danger to India in the event of anything happening to the Suez Canal, it would be possible for us to have a line to India through Haifa Bay to Suez and to take ship on the other side.
It has been pointed out, and rightly, that the Jew going to Palestine has made tremendous advantages for the Arabs themselves. Someone has spoken this afternoon about the dispossessed Arabs. The Jew has purchased Palestine not acre by acre but inch by inch at fabulous prices, uneconomic prices. The only reason for that is that they have paid this in order to satisfy the Arab and to make it possible at least for some of the oppressed people to find a home in that land. The subject has been referred to already. I want to ask the Colonial Secretary whether in his own mind he is quite satisfied—I am speaking of the Arabs—that they are quite ready? They are the men whom the legislature is designed to benefit. I do not mean the 1149 Effendi class, who live in Egypt and get their living out of the poor Arab. I do not mean that class of Arab. They, it seems to me, are the political agitators for the legislative council. It is not the poor people. The agitation against the Jew has not come from the poor people in the first instance; it has been an inspired, political agitation, using the Arab as an instrument so that political control should go to those absentee landlords who have been a curse to the people of Palestine and who will ruin the experiment if the Government gives them the opportunity so to do.
The pledge regarding the legislative council was that, so far as the High Commissioner is concerned, first of all there would come education by means of local government. Has that pledge been carried out? In Ceylon we have seen what happens by putting government into the hands of those who are unqualified to carry it out, and this Government has had to take action to veto an act of the legislative council in so far as certain commodities manufactured in this country are concerned. But in this instance the Government is not playing with Palestine; it is playing with a movement that lies deep in human hearts. The Jews are determined to make a success of this trust which has been committed to their care. They are afraid, and rightly afraid, that the action now being taken will ruin all that they have done and make it impossible for them to carry out what they hope to do in the future. Surely in placing the Jew under the Arab by setting up this Council, which is about to be done, are you not, for the first time in Palestine, putting the Jew in an inferior position, and is not that the position of the Jew in the persecuted countries? True, we are not applying the thumbscrew and the rack. We are not persecuting in that sense, but we are crushing this ideal that beats in the Jewish heart, that makes them sacrifice their millions—every Jewish home has its little box receiving its pennies—to build up for prosperity the home which was promised by this country.
Why not delay the action five or 10 years to give the experiment a chance? Then with a more balanced population, a more educated Arab population, with a more deeply appreciative idea of the value of the Jews in Palestine we can go forward and say, "Now you 1150 are ready for it; carry on the work we have begun."