HC Deb 13 November 1945 vol 415 cc1927-35
The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Ernest Bevin)

I should like, with the permission of the House, to make a statement.

His Majesty's Government have been giving serious and continuous attention to the whole problem of the Jewish community that has arisen as a result of Nazi persecution in Germany, and the conditions arising there from. It is, unfortunately, true that until conditions in Europe become stable, the future of a large number of persons of many races, who have suffered under this persecution, cannot finally be determined. The plight of the victims of Nazi persecution, among whom were a large number of Jews, is unprecedented in the history of the world. His Majesty's Government are taking every step open to them to try to improve the lot of these unfortunate people. The Jewish problem is a great human one. We cannot accept the view that the Jews should be driven out of Europe, and should not be permitted to live again in these countries without discrimination, and contribute their ability and their talent towards rebuilding the prosperity of Europe. Even after we have done all we can in this respect, it does not provide a solution of the whole problem.

There have recently been demands made upon us for large-scale immigration into Palestine. Palestine, while it may be able to make a contribution, does not, by itself, provide sufficient opportunity for grappling with the whole problem. His Majesty's Government are anxious to explore every possibility which will result in giving the Jews a proper opportunity for revival.

The problem of Palestine is itself a very difficult one. The Mandate for Palestine requires the Mandatory to facilitate Jewish immigration, and to encourage close settlement by Jews on the land, while ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced thereby. His Majesty's Government have thus a dual obligation, to the Jews on the one side and to the Arabs on the other. The lack of any clear definition of this dual obligation has been the main cause of the trouble which has been experienced in Palestine during the past 26 years. His Majesty's Government have made every effort to devise some arrangements which would enable Arabs and Jews to live together in peace and to co-operate for the welfare of the country, but all such efforts have been unavailing. Any arrangement acceptable to one party has been rejected as unacceptable to the other. The whole history of Palestine since the Mandate was granted, has been one of continued friction between the two races, culminating at intervals in serious disturbances.

The fact has to be faced that since the introduction of the Mandate it has been impossible to find common ground between the Arabs and the Jews. The differences in religion and in language, in cultural and social life, in ways of thought and conduct, are difficult to reconcile. On the other hand, both communities lay claim to Palestine, one on the ground of a millenium of occupation, and the other on the ground of historic association coupled with the undertaking given in the first world war to establish a Jewish home. The task that has to be accomplished now is to find means to reconcile these divergences.

The repercussions of the conflict have spread far beyond the small land in which it has arisen. The Zionist cause has strong supporters in the United States, in Great Britain, in the Dominions and elsewhere; civilisation has been appalled by the sufferings which have been inflicted in recent years on the persecuted Jews of Europe. On the other side of the picture, the cause of the Palestinian Arabs has been espoused by the whole Arab world and more lately has become a matter of keen interest to their 90,000,000 co-religionists in India. In Palestine itself there is always the serious risk of disturbances on the part of one condition or the other, and such disturbances are bound to find their reflection in a much wider field. Considerations not only of equity and of humanity, but also of international amity and world peace, are thus involved in any search for solution.

In dealing with Palestine all parties have entered into commitments. There are the commitments imposed by the Mandate itself, and, in addition, the various statements of policy which have been made by His Majesty's Government in the course of the last 25 years. Further, the United States Government themselves have undertaken that no decision should be taken in respect of what, in their opinion, affects the basic situation in Palestine, without full consultation with both Arabs and Jews.

Having regard to the whole situation and the fact that it has caused this worldwide interest which affects both Arabs and Jews, His Majesty's Government decided to invite the Government of the United States to co-operate with them in setting up a joint Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, under a rotating chairmanship, to examine the question of European Jewry and to make a further review of the Palestine problem in the light of that examination. I am happy to be able to inform the House that the Government of the United States have accepted this invitation.

The terms of reference that have been agreed between the United States Government and His Majesty's Government are as follow:

  1. (1) To examine political, economic and social conditions of Palestine as they bear upon the problem of Jewish immigration and settlement therein, and the wellbeing of the peoples now living therein.
  2. (2) To examine the position of the Jews in those countries in Europe where they have been the victims of Nazi and Fascist persecution and the practical measures taken or contemplated to be taken in those countries, to enable them to live free from discrimination and oppression and to make estimates of those who wish, or will be impelled by their conditions to migrate to Palestine, or other countries outside Europe.
  3. (3) To hear the view of competent witnesses and to consult representative Arabs and Jews on the problems of Palestine as such problems are affected by conditions subject to examination under paragraph 1 and paragraph 2 above, and by other relevant facts and circumstances, and to make recommendations to His Majesty's Govern- 1930 ment and to the Government of the United States for ad interim handling of those problems, as well as for their permanent solution.
  4. (4) To make such other recommendations to His Majesty's Government, and the Government of the United States, as may be necessary to meet the immediate needs arising from conditions subject to examination under paragraph 2 above, by remedial action in the European countries in question, or by the provision of facilities for emigration to, and settlement in, countries outside Europe.
Those are the terms of reference. The procedure of the Committee will be determined by the Committee themselves and it will be open to them, if they think fit, to deal simultaneously, through the medium of sub-committees, with their various terms of reference. The Committee will be invited to deal with the matters refererd to in their terms of reference with the utmost expedition. In complying with the second and fourth paragraphs of their terms of reference, the Committee will presumably, take such steps as they consider necessary in order to inform themselves of the character and magnitude of the problem created by the war. They will also give consideration to the problem of settlement in Europe, and to possible countries of disposal. In the light of their investigations, they will make recommendations to the two Governments for dealing with the problem in the interim until such time as a permanent solution can be submitted to the appropriate organ of the United Nations.

The recommendations of a Committee of Inquiry such as will now be set up, will also be of immense help in arriving at a solution of the Palestine problem. The Committee will, in accordance with the first and third paragraphs of their terms of reference, make an examination, on the spot, of the political, economic and social conditions which are at present held to restrict immigration into Palestine, and, after consulting representative Arabs and Jews, submit proposals for dealing with these problems. It will be necessary for His Majesty's Government, both to take action with a view to securing some satisfactory interim arrangements, and also to devise a policy for permanent application thereafter. This inquiry will facilitate the finding of a solu- tion which will, in turn, facilitate the arrangements for placing Palestine under trusteeship.

So far as Palestine is concerned, it will be clear that His Majesty's Government cannot divest themselves of their duties and responsibilities under the Mandate while the Mandate continues. They propose, in accordance with their pledges, to deal with the question in three stages:

  1. (i) They will consult the Arabs with a view to an arrangement which will ensure that pending the receipt of the ad interim recommendations which the Committee of Inquiry will make on the matter there is no interruption of Jewish immigration at the present monthly rate.
  2. (ii) After considering the ad interim recommendations of the Committee of Inquiry, they will explore, with the parties concerned, the possibility of devising other temporary arrangements for dealing with the Palestine problem, until a permanent solution of it can be reached.
  3. (iii) They will prepare a permanent solution for submission to the United Nations, and if possible an agreed one.
The House will realise that we have inherited in Palestine a most difficult legacy, and our task is greatly complicated by undertakings given at various times to various parties, which we feel ourselves bound to honour.

Miss Rathbone

What about your own policy?

Mr. Bevin

Any violent departure without adequate consultation would not only afford ground for a charge of breach of faith against His Majesty's Government but would probably cause serious reactions throughout the Middle East and would arouse widespread anxiety in India.

His Majesty's Government are satisfied that the course which they propose to pursue in the immediate future, is not only that which is in accordance with their obligations, but is also that which, in the long view, is in the best interests of both parties. It will in no way prejudice either the action to be taken on the recommendations of the Committee of Inquiry, or the terms of the Trusteeship Agreement which will supersede the exist- ing Mandate, and will, therefore, control ultimate policy in regard to Palestine.

His Majesty's Government in making this new approach, wish to make it clear that the Palestine problem is not one which can be settled by force, and that any attempt to do so, by any party, will be resolutely dealt with. It must be settled by discussion and conciliation, and there can be no question of allowing an issue to be forced by violent conflict. We have confidence that if this problem is approached in the right spirit by Arabs and Jews, not only will a solution be found to the Palestine question, just to both parties, but a great contribution will be made to the stability and peace in the Middle East.

Finally, the initiative taken by His Majesty's Government, and the agreement of the United States Government to co operate in dealing with the whole problem created by Nazi aggression is a significant sign of their determination to deal with this problem in a constructive way and a humanitarian spirit. But I must emphasise that the problem is not one which can be dealt with only in relation to Palestine: it will need a united effort by the Powers to relieve the miseries of these suffering peoples. I would add, in conclusion that, throughout, there has been the closest consultation between my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies and myself in this matter, which concerns him since the Mandatory status of Palestine brings that territory within the responsibility of the Colonial Office, but which is also a deep concern to me, since the problem is clearly an international problem. It is the intention of His Majesty's Government that the problem shall continue to be handled in close collaboration between our two Departments, in order that the particular question of Palestine, and the wider international issues which are involved, may be harmonised, and treated as a whole, as a great human problem.

Colonel Oliver Stanley

The right hon. Gentleman has just made a most important statement on a most delicate and difficult problem. There are obvious questions, and there are matters on which we should like explanation, but I personally feel, and I think many hon. Members will agree, that I would much prefer not to have to put them until we have had an opportunity to study the right hon. Gentleman's statement, and that any discussion should take place, not in the atmosphere of questions and answers, which, in delicate matters like this, always presents certain dangers, but in reasoned debate. If the right hon. Gentleman can say, as I hope he will be able to say, that the House is soon to be given an opportunity to debate this urgent matter, I would prefer to postpone any comment.

Mr. Bevin

I think that if the right hon. Gentleman would put that question to the Leader of the House on Thursday we might have an opportunity to consider it. We have not considered a Debate, but if representations are made—[Interruption.] I ask hon. Members not to get excited. I personally do not deal with arrangements for Debates.

Colonel Stanley

Can I put a question to the Leader of the House now? The position is that I, and I think many other hon. Members, would be prepared to waive our right to ask questions now if we were assured that there would be a Debate. I do not ask that, immediately, the Leader of the House should settle the arrangements and the day, but perhaps he would say, in response to what I think is a united request on the part of the House, that he would give a day soon for Debate.

The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)

We shall not be difficult on that point at all, if there is a general wish in the House for a Debate, and I gather there is. My right hon. Friend and I thought that as the statement has just been made, it would be as well if Members were to read it carefully, and then, if they want to talk about it, an approach could be made through the usual channels, and, if necessary, I would make an announcement on Thursday.

Mr. Janner

I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, in view of the statement he has made that the responsibility of the Mandate rests upon our shoulders, he proposes that that responsibility should be carried out until some new policy is adopted; and whether he proposes to insist that that should be in the forefront of any new policy; also if he will bear in mind the fact that, at the present time, there are some 1,250,000 people anxious to go to Palestine, and see what arrangements can be made?

Mr. Bevin

I would say to my hon. Friend that this problem has been one of the most baffling in the world, and I would appeal to him not to introduce racial feeling. From my point of view, I can assure him that I am struggling to the best of my ability as Foreign Secretary to solve this problem, not, I hope, on the basis of the passions involved in the immediate difficulties now facing us. But I am sure that this House and Jewry as a whole, apart from the Zionist organisations, are anxious to see a final solution. I give my hon. Friend my personal assurance, as I gave it to one of the Jewish leaders the other day, that I will stake my political future on solving this problem, but not in the limited sphere presented to me now.

Mr. Stokes

I want to ask the Foreign Secretary a question on this very important point. I have no wish to raise controversy on this matter. [Interruption.] I wish to ask the Foreign Secretary whether he will bear in mind that his preamble, while referring to specific promises made to the Jews, did not make any specific reference to the categorical promises made previously to the Arabs. Particularly, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is aware that the Arabs have made perfectly clear to everybody their willingness to help in this vital problem by admitting Jews into territories other than Palestine?

Mr. Bevin

I beg my hon. Friend, in this crisis, not to pursue racial antagonisms. It is the most difficult thing in this world to settle anything when racial antagonism is raised. The Arabs are meeting me very well, and I thank them for it. There is a great sense of responsibility, except for one small section, among Jewry, and not all the Jews are Zionists. They want this problem settled. I am pursuing this course in the hope of trying to find a solution. I know it has difficulties. This is the first time I have heard the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) not being controversial. But, when we have had so many wars, so much bloodshed, over racial antagonism, I would appeal to this House to help me to carry out my job, and find a solution of this problem.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

In view of the arrangement that has been made, I do not want to ask my right hon. Friend any questions. I think it would be wrong however to let the opportunity pass, without thanking the Foreign Secretary for his very careful and lengthy statement, and for the spirit in which it was made, and to congratulate him on having secured the co-operation, in this difficult matter, of the United States Government.