HC Deb 08 April 1948 vol 449 cc358-61
Mr. Manningham-Buller

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he has any statement to make with regard to the murder of a British officer and five British soldiers at Pardess Hanna, Palestine.

The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Creech Jones)

The latest report which I have received from the High Commissioner states that at 7 o'clock in the morning of 6th April an armoured scout car with military markings, followed by an armoured personnel carrier reported as bearing police markings and a 3-ton truck, drove into the military camp near Pardess Hanna. Armed Jews, some of whom were dressed in police uniforms and others in Army uniforms, jumped out of the vehicles, held up the sentry and forced him into the Guard-room where he and three other members of the guard were stood up against the wall, shot in the back and killed. At the same time a signals clerk nearby was held up and radio sets and the wireless mast were destroyed by explosives. The Jews then drove their vehicles into the centre of the camp and took up positions from which continuous fire was poured into the surrounding buildings. Under cover of this fire, which killed the Commanding Officer and two British other ranks, and wounded seven others, a party of the attackers raided the three camp armouries. The Jews eventually withdrew taking 62 rifles, 38 Sten guns, 18 Bren guns, four anti-tank weapons and a quantity of ammunition. Two half-tracked vehicles were also taken, but one was abandoned near the camp and has been recovered.

All the attackers appear to have escaped. Prior to the attack, roads in the vicinity had been mined. An earlier report that four of the attackers had been captured near another military camp is incorrect.

A statement condemning this outrage has already been made in another place on behalf of His Majesty's Government. It is cold-blooded murder for its own sake and nothing else. Such senseless crimes, committed by members of a community which aspires to recognition by the world as ready for acceptance into the comity of nations, continue to blot the record of the Jews in Palestine. They have frequently been condemned in this House. The soldiers struck down were engaged in a task arising from the honest discharge of our international responsibilities. Our soldiers are being withdrawn from these perils and this last barbarity makes the task even more urgent. The authorities in Palestine will make all efforts to bring those responsible for these crimes to justice. I am sure that Members of this House will join with me in an expression of the profound sympathy of His Majesty's Government with the relatives of the men who have been so foully murdered.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

While joining with the right hon. Gentleman in his expressions of sympathy, may I ask him whether, apart from any expression of sympathy, any active assistance has been forthcoming from the Jewish Agency or the Jewish community with a view to securing the arrest of the perpetrators of this conduct of Nazi-like character?

Mr. Creech Jones

On the point in regard to the co-operation of the Jewish community, I have called for the fullest information from the High Commissioner and I am awaiting his report.

Mr. Churchill

Will inquiries also be made as to the unpreparedness of this camp, because it does seem that they were taken completely by surprise, and that this treacherous outrage was conducted with the utmost efficiency while our poor men, who were looking forward to coming back to their families in this country, were cut off and shot down without being able to inflict one single casualty upon the assailants. I think we ought to take measures to look after our soldiers, quite apart from all the other issues on which we are in entire accord with the Government.

Mr. Creech Jones

We have, of course, called for the fullest report of all the circumstances surrounding this outrage. A Question is on the Order Paper addressed to the Secretary of State for War and will be answered in the course of a day or so.

Mr. Nally

Bearing on the supplementary question put by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, can we have an assurance from my right hon. Friend that we shall have quite clearly and specifically stated why a camp, presumably containing a quantity of arms, was in such a position that only one sentry had to be dealt with in order to allow this apparently small convoy to enter the camp?

Mr. Creech Jones

That is a question for the Secretary of State for War, and I understand that he will be replying to it in full early next week.

General Sir George Jeffreys

Can the Secretary of State give any information to the House as to how these armoured cars and carriers, which were military vehicles, came into the possession of these Jews?

Earl Winterton

Could the right hon. Gentleman now answer a question which I put to the Secretary of State for War on the Army Estimates, and to which I have not yet received an answer—whether the military authorities have full power to take all precautions for their protection, or whether they have to approach the High Commissioner and his office? That is very important because, if the soldiers are given a free hand, they will find means of stopping these outrages.

Mr. Creech Jones

The military forces are completely unhampered in this regard. Everything that they have asked for of the High Commissioner, who is ultimately responsible in Palestine, has been given them.

Squadron-Leader Fleming

Is it not still the fact that the Commander-in-Chief has not the authority to declare martial law, as he ought to have done a month ago, without the permission of the High Commissioner?

Mr. Creech Jones

There are ample facilities for the declaration of martial law in the sense of cordoning off regions where outrages occur.

Air-Commodore Harvey

Will the right hon. Gentleman consult the Secretary of State for Air and enlist his help with a view to using aircraft to track down and deal with the murderers?

Mr. Henderson Stewart

May I repeat the question which I put on the occasion of the last unfortunate outrage? Are the Government satisfied that their broad military policy in Palestine, and the powers vested in all the military authorities in Palestine, are adequate to safeguard the lives of our soldiers?

Mr. Creech Jones

The answer to that is in the affirmative. This matter has been gone into time and time again, and the powers reposing in the military authorities are declared to be completely adequate.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

But is the policy adequate?