§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Lieut.-Colonel C. Kerr.]
§ 11.10 p.m.
§ Colonel Wedgwood
On 26th April last the right hon. Gentleman promised me a copy of the Palestine Immigration Ordinance. In spite of reminders I have not yet had that copy, but the Ordinance is in operation and I want to call attention to its working and the immediate crisis that it has produced. Without knowing its details we are aware that it includes the forfeiture of ships bringing the immigrants to Palestine and the imprisonment of the captains who bring them and the punishment of those who harbour the unfortunate refugees who get to land and the rewards to spies and informers who give 172 information to the police about the immigrants. It also appears to include the temporary use of His Majesty's Navy to do the dirty work of the Palestine Government, and it is in connection with that work that we have had so many questions on the Paper. During the last four months ship after ship has come to Palestine loaded to the gunwale with refugees. They are not luxury liners. They are ships of 300 and 400 tons burden, devoid of any conveniences whatever. They are loaded up with anything from 200 to 900 people on board. Some of the ships have been three months on the sea before they get to Palestine. The wretched cargo tries to wade ashore. They are caught by the Arabs or the police, who are rewarded for catching them when they get ashore, and now they are being caught on the sea and, if the ship's captain does not obey the order to go into Haifa, fire is opened on them. These people are, in effect, escaped slaves. They have escaped from conditions in Germany which are really worse than negro slavery.
In the seventies of last century it was decreed that when a slave set his foot on a British ship ipso facto he became a free man and he was not to be handed back to his master. The House debated the question, the Fugitive Slave Law was passed and it was enforced on the Admiralty, with the Admiralty's best wishes, that in future any one who reached an English 173 ship should be safe, and our Fleet was used for stopping the slave trade across the Red Sea. Now it is being used for exactly the reverse purpose of trying to catch these slaves and returning them to their masters. The persecution of the Jews that is taking place in Germany, far from having excited the sympathy of the right hon. Gentleman, seems to have affected the Government, and particularly the Palestine administration, so that we see them joining in and doing just that dirty work which would be asked from them by the slave owners in Germany to-day. The whole sentiment of Europe has gone to the devil in the last 10 years. It was only 18 months ago that this House and the whole world were aroused to indignation because a paltry 70 Jews were dumped on a rock in the middle of the Danube, unable either to go into Czecho-Slovakia or to go back into Germany. That so aroused the indignation of the world that the right hon. Gentleman himself allowed these people to go to Palestine. Now we are doing the inhuman job: we are stopping these people from having the opportunity of getting freedom.
There have been several of these ships, and I want the House to realise what has happened. There was the "Sandu" which arrived with 269 refugees; they were sent back. Then there was the "Astir" which got in with 710. They were all sent back, and the Palestine Government did not even find food for those miserable wretches on board. The food was found in the case of the "Astir" by the Jews in Haifa. The next was the "Assini" which managed to get 80 on shore by swimming, the rest were turned back. They were sent back to hell. They did not get back to Germany, because they remained on board the ship. Then there was the ''Panagaic'' which brought 182. They were all allowed to land after they had been arrested, and the tragedy of it is that the only reason why they were allowed to land was that they became so hysterical that they threw the food overboard. They were sent to a concentration camp where they were very decently looked after by the British Army. Then there was the "Aghios Nikolorus." This is the ship that was fired on. There were nearly 700 Jews on this ship, and I would like the House to realise that it was not the British Navy which did the firing. I asked a question about it, and 174 the Admiralty said that the allegation was devoid of foundation. So it was, as far as the British Admiralty were concerned, but it was not, unfortunately, devoid of foundation as far as the Palestinian naval flotilla was concerned. They did fire on that ship. I was told in reply to a question that it was fired on by the captain of the patrol boat with his revolver. He fired three shots and apparently killed three men. One was killed on the spot and two have died since. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman two questions about that. Was the captain rewarded and was he an Englishman?
Since that time two other ships have arrived in Palestine, and I wish to know whether the people brought on those ships have been allowed to land or have been sent back. The last ship arrived three days ago, carrying not new immigrants, but people from other ships who had been collected off the Greek islands, and who have now made the journey to Palestine twice. Are they to be allowed to land? If the right hon. Gentleman is deducting them from the quota, I do not think that in those circumstances he need drag our name in the mud in this way; they might be allowed to land. Is the right hon. Gentleman going to persist in this policy? If so, we have a right to demand that we should have the Ordinance, under which this monstrous action is being taken, discussed in this House. We cannot have our name dragged in the mud in this way. Conduct worthy of Hitler, conduct worthy of the Middle Ages, cannot be carried on by the British Government in 1939. He may succeed in stopping this illegal immigration, but if he does, the report of it will stink in the nostrils of posterity. It is not conduct which it is possible to defend. You are putting a law on paper which is contrary to humanity and contrary to justice, and one which the Jews will be perfectly justified in breaking. The Jews may be incapable of breaking any law: but if they resist the right hon. Gentleman cannot make a success of this law, and the sooner it is withdrawn the better. It is impossible to keep a ship loaded with refugees out of the part of a country which wants to receive them. In the last resort they will sink the motor boats: in the last resort they will swim to land. I ask the right hon. Gentleman in the few minutes at his disposal to tell me about the man who shot these men on the "Aghlos Nikolorus"; (2) to let me know whether 175 the people on the last two ships have been allowed to land, and (3) whether he will give the House an opportunity of discussing this law or whether he will withdraw the law and allow the illegal immigration to go on, deducting it, if necessary, from the quota allowance.
§ 11.22 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Malcolm MacDonald)
Perhaps I may answer straight away the points which I have been asked. So far as I know, the captain of the police patrol vessel which fired on one of those ships was a British police officer.
§ Mr. MacDonald
British. He received no reward. He was merely carrying out his duty under the Ordinance. In regard to the other question, the problem of what should be done with the people on the ships which have been recently arrested is still under consideration by the authorities, and so I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman the information he asks for this evening as to whether they will be allowed to stay in Palestine.
§ Mr. MacDonald
Perhaps I may deal with the general question which the right hon. Gentleman raised. The whole House is deeply concerned at the persecution of Jews which is going on in some countries in Europe. We are all anxious to do the maximum we can to help Jewish refugees to settle in other countries. Of course, when we speak of countries overseas one thinks of Palestine in the first place. The Jewish national home is there. But we have to keep a sense of proportion in this matter. Palestine is a comparatively small country, about the size of Wales. It has already a population of more than a million Arabs and close on half a million Jews, and therefore it is self evident that the room which can be found there for the settlement of refugees is somewhat limited. I think it is generally agreed that Palestine by itself cannot provide the whole solution for the refugee problem. I grant that it is also generally agreed that Palestine should make a contribution towards a solution of this problem.
176 Hon. and right hon. Members who are critical of the actions we are taking with regard to these illegal immigrants sometimes tend to give the impression that we are preventing refugees from going to Palestine and settling there. That is absolutely untrue. The Government believe that Palestine should make a contribution to this refugee problem. We believe it should make a very considerable contribution to the problem and under the policy which we have recently announced we have made express provision for the settlement in Palestine of very large numbers of Jewish refugees from Central Europe. In the first place, there are to be 25,000 refugees who will be admitted to Palestine as soon as the High Commissioner is satisfied that proper provision has been made there for their maintenance. In addition, there is to be an admission of 10,000 Jewish immigrants each year for the next five years, 50,000 altogether, and there is no reason why a very large number of those 50,000 should not be refugees.
Under the policy of His Majesty's Government there is no reason why scores of thousands of refugees from Central Europe should not enter and settle in Palestine over the next few years, provided that they get the proper papers and adhere to the law of the country. The Government are not guilty of any inhuman indifference to the lot of the refugees. They can go into Palestine provided that they conform to the law. Every country has an immigration law. Palestine has an immigration law, and what we are dealing with here is a deliberate and a large-scale attempt to flout the law of Palestine.
§ Mr. MacDonald
Let me say this to the right hon. Gentleman, whose humanity and sincerity in this matter the whole House appreciates. We are dealing in this matter with those people, responsible for this traffic, who in many cases are doing nothing more than exploiting the misery of these unhappy Jewish refugees. They make no attempt to find out whether these people will be allowed to land in Palestine. They make no attempt to get the proper papers, the certificates for the introduction.
§ Mr. MacDonald
They tell these unhappy people that by hook or by crook they will get them landed in Palestine
§ Mr. MacDonald
—and they are charging outrageous fares to these people. I have heard of cases of people who have been charged £20, £30 or £40 for this miserable voyage to Palestine and back; and the organisers are simply counting on being able to get these refugees into Palestine illegally during the night, on some unguarded part of the coast. The right hon. Gentleman says that we ought to admit these people, and he made an appeal to our humanity. I wish we could respond to that appeal, but we cannot do it. We are going to allow large numbers of refugees to land who fit in with the law of the country, refugees belonging to categories for whom accommodation can be found—children, students, labouring people, capitalists, dependants, and so on; but we cannot allow this illegal immigration, which would spread to very large numbers of people, even create chaos, and 178 increase the bloodshed and violence and misunderstanding and hatred in Palestine.
I will make one more point, and that is that the right hon. Gentleman appeals to us on this occasion because he says it is a refugee case. It is not just a refugee case. If we were to allow one of these ships to land we should have to allow all the other ships to land their passengers. Those passengers are not confined to refugees from those countries where Jews are being persecuted. I have a case hereof one ship with 160 Rumanian Jews and 360 Polish Jews.
§ Mr. MacDonald
This is not simply a refugee problem. It is a problem of scores of thousands, which would become hundreds of thousands, of Jews from countries in Europe where there is persecution and where there is no persecution, seeking to overcome the law in Palestine and land and settle there, but as I say—
§ It being Half-past Eleven of the Clock, MR. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, according to the Standing Order.