HC Deb 14 July 1948 vol 453 cc1182-4
Mr. Pickthorn

(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of State whether he has any information about the British subjects kidnapped in Jerusalem.

The Minister of State (Mr. McNeil)

I am sorry not to have been able sooner to report to the House further upon the five British subjects kidnapped in Jerusalem by the Irgun. They are still detained. I have seen reports that there is some intention of staging a trial of these men, on charges of espionage, but there is no official confirmation of these reports. The House knows that the men were seized in a building which was under the protection of the United Nations Truce Commission. The Truce Commission addressed a note to the local Jewish authorities in Jerusalem, stating that if the men were not released by 13th July they would report to the Security Council the inability of the Jewish authorities to maintain law and order in Jerusalem. We are maintaining almost constant contact with His Majesty's Consulate in Jerusalem but I regret that we do not yet know what action the Jewish authorities have taken as a result of this note.

Mr. Pickthorn

May I ask two Questions. First, whether there is yet any safe, any reliable information about the condition of these men and the conditions in which they are being held? Secondly, what right, if any, in the opinion of His Majesty's Government, could any Zionist authority have to try these men on any charge?

Mr. McNeil

I regret to say that I have as yet no official information as to the state or whereabouts of these men. As for the hon. Gentleman's second question, the organisation concerned is, of course, a terrorist organisation and therefore has no status whatever. But even if the Jewish authorities were responsible for the capture, which I am glad to say they are not, since His Majesty's Government have not recognised those authorities we could not recognise the status of any tribunal in Jerusalem to try British subjects.

Mr. Oliver Stanley

Will the right hon. Gentleman agree that the inability or possibly the unwillingness of the Jewish authorities to enforce any control over this terrorist organisation raises serious doubts in the minds of people who, up to now, have kept open minds as to any claim they have for a separate State?

Mr. McNeil

I am anxious not to give the impression that I have any reason to believe that the Jewish authorities are unwilling to take care of these men. As to their ability or inability, I should think that to be more properly a subject for the Mediator or the Truce Commission and I am informed, as I have informed the House, that that point of view will be dealt with by the Commission before the Security Council.

Mr. S. Silverman

While appreciating the tone and spirit of my right hon. Friend's reply may I ask will he not confirm that until His Majesty's Government recognise some authority in Jerusalem and in Palestine, the position remains where the Palestine Act passed in this House left it, namely that there is no law in Palestine at all and no authority so far as His Majesty's Government are concerned, entitled to exercise any authority over anybody?

Mr. McNeil

With great respect I should dissociate myself from that viewpoint. His Majesty's Government as a loyal member of the United Nations have so discharged their obligations in Palestine and in particular in Jerusalem. These five men were discharging a public service under the flag of the Truce Commission and the Jewish authorities in that and other areas have almost completely given their adherence to that Truce Commission. His Majesty's Government have the same right to seek the protection of that authority as any other good member of the United Nations.

Mr. Gammans

Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that other British subjects in Palestine may not suffer the same fate, and has he given any instructions or made any suggestions that there should be a general evacuation of all British subjects from Palestine?

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