HC Deb 15 June 1964 vol 696 cc917-9
17. Mr. D. Foot

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will publish all the documents in the possession of his Department relating to British undertakings to the Arabs during and after the First World War on the subject of the future independence of Arab countries, including the instructions on which Sir Henry McMahon based his letter of 24th October, 1915, to Sherif Husain.

Mr. Mathew

The correspondence between Sir Henry McMahon and the Sherif Husain in 1915–16 has been published in full, together with other relevant material from the period up to 1918. The instructions on which Sir Henry McMahon based his letter of 24th October, 1915, and other relevant documents for the period of the First World War, will become available to the public in the fairly near future in accordance with the Public Records Act, 1958. Meanwhile, it is not proposed to publish further documents for the wartime period. A large number of relevant documents from the period since 1919 have already been published in the series entitled "Documents on British Foreign Policy, 1919–1939". Further material will be published in this series in due course.

Mr. Foot

Is not the hon. Gentleman aware, and was it not quite apparent in the recent correspondence in The Times that this is still a matter of acute controversy? Is there any valid reason why we should have to wait the full 50 years before all the facts are made known?

Mr. Mathew

As I say, these documents will be made available for public use in the fairly near future and there seems no sufficient reason to make an exception in this case to the rules stated in the Act.

Mr. Brockway

Will these documents include the promises simultaneously made to the Arabs and to the Jews about the position of the territory of Palestine? Ought we not to know all these pledges in view of the grave situation that has arisen in the Middle East ever since?

Mr. Mathew

The hon. Gentleman really must wait until the full documents are available before he pronounces on the matter. The Times article to which reference has been made mentioned a memorandum which expressed the personal views of its author. As the writer of The Times article himself explained, the department concerned was not a policy-making department in the sense that it was representing Government policy at the time. This was only one of a number of inter-departmental documents that were available at the time.

Mr. P. Noel-Baker

As I understand the hon. Gentleman, some of the documents will be published, under the 50-year rule, in 1965. Will it not be most misleading and most inconvenient to everyone if all the documents up to 1921 or 1922 are not published together?

Mr. Mathew

I repeat that this document is one of a very large number of documents on the subject which were prepared for internal use and which will become available under the 1958 Act in the near future.