HL Deb 20 July 1937 vol 106 cc666-74

Debate resumed on the Motion made by Lord Snell.


My Lords, immediately before the adjournment we listened, not for the first time in this House, to a very eloquent speech from the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, who speaks on this subject with very great authority. That speech was a timely reminder to us of the background of this whole question, the cause of the Balfour Declaration itself and the very foundation of the Mandate—namely, the persecution of Jews in many countries of Europe which has become so very much greater since the Balfour Declaration was first made. There have in fact been so many able speeches already made in this debate that they relieve me of a good deal that I should have wished to say had I spoken earlier to-day, and I only want now to refer to two points which have not been mentioned by any previous speakers.

This Report is chiefly discussed, and has been so discussed in this House this afternoon, from the point of view either of the Jews or of the Arabs, but I would remind your Lordships that there is another feature of the Report, another partner of the partition, a feature of the Report which causes me the very gravest anxiety. Even if the partition scheme were accepted whole-heartedly by both the Jews and the Arabs, and there is very little evidence of this, I should feel great anxiety about the interests of this country under the scheme and the position of the Mandatory Government which will still continue if this partition scheme is carried out. The noble Marquess, speaking for the Government, reminded your Lordships just now that the Statement of Policy issued by His Majesty's Government supporting the main lines of the Commission's Report must not be taken to mean that Great Britain is leaving Palestine. I would just ask your Lordships to consider in what position Great Britain will be left in Palestine under this partition scheme. It is a matter about which I hope the noble Viscount who winds up the debate for the Government will tell us something. It is assumed, I am afraid rather too readily, both by the Commission and the Government, that this partition will bring peace to Palestine. Well, I hope it may. Everyone who has the interests of Palestine at heart must devoutly hope that it may be so. But I fear that the experience of the past does not altogether justify these hopes.

The Royal Commission say that good and just government without regard for sectional interests must be the basic principle of the Mandatory Authority in the future. When speaking of the minority that will have to be left in each State they say, on page 390, that the problem must be boldly faced and firmly dealt with. It calls for the highest statesmanship on the part of all concerned. Yes, my Lords, but these words are just as applicable to the past as they are to the future, and if the problem of the Mandate had been boldly faced and firmly dealt with, if in fact in the past the highest statesmanship had been shown by all concerned, then the Mandate would have succeeded and the proposal for partition of the country would never have been made. The noble Marquess, Lord Dufferin, said it was an illusion to suppose that if these conditions had prevailed in the past, if we had had this statesmanship and this firm and bold government, everything would have gone well. If it is an illusion to say that of the past, it is equally an illusion to hope that that will be the result in the future. Is there really any ground for the belief that in the future everybody is going to be so much more reasonable and statesmanlike than they have been in the past?

If these hopes are disappointed, what is going to be the position of the Mandatory Power? The Commission have told us in their Report that even the whole of Palestine was too small to enable a sufficient Civil Service cadre to be provided. Well, but when the area is reduced to merely a small corridor where are to be found the statesmen to reconcile these conflicting parties? If you could not get an efficient service in the whole of Palestine where are you going to find your Civil Service to govern the City of Jerusalem with a little Corridor to Jaffa? And where are you going to station troops if troops should be necessary? We do not want to have to conquer Palestine a second time. And note that without any territory, without any revenue, the responsibility of this Mandatory Government is going to be in no way diminished. It is, in fact, if anything, going to be increased. I would ask, if the Government of Palestine could not keep peace between its own subjects how will the keeper of the Corridor, or whatever he may be called in the future, be able to have any control over the conflicting interests of two sovereign States between which he is placed? Keeping the peace between Jews and Arabs will not be the only responsibility of the Mandatory Government in the future. There will still remain on the British Government the strategic responsibility of maintaining that great link by sea, by land and air between Europe and the East.

I have thought it well just to mention briefly this aspect of the question in the hope that the noble Viscount who speaks for the Government will deal with it later. I will only mention one other minor point at this stage. Under the scheme of partition recommended by the Commission two important undertakings have been assigned to the Arab State, the Palestine Electric Corporation in the Jordan Valley and the Palestine Potash Company at the Dead Sea. I only wish to speak about the latter because it is a company with which I am myself connected. Palestine Potash is an English company with an English Chairman. Its present issued capital is £746,000. That capital was subscribed on the footing that Palestine, in which the industry was being established, was a British mandated territory and that if at some future time the Mandate were abandoned, its place would be taken by a Government in Palestine in which would be included the Jewish National Home. I am quite confident that if ever it had been suggested or even hinted that within a few years this enterprise would come under the exclusive jurisdiction of a newly constituted Arab State, with no experience in industrial matters, that capital would never have been subscribed, and this important industry with all its future possibilities would never have been established.

Of course it may be argued that as this enterprise may be an important source of revenue to the Arab State it is most unlikely that the Arab Government would do anything to injure it. If only business reasons were brought into play that would be perfectly true. From the purely business point of view the Arab Government would have no interest whatever in injuring this enterprise. But, once political considerations are intro- duced into a business matter, there is no sort of security, and we have seen during the recent riots how various attempts were made to interfere with or sabotage this industry of the Dead Sea. What I want to point out to your Lordships is that if any injury should be inflicted there will be others outside the Arab State who would wish to intervene.

The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, in his most able speech said that the Royal Commission seemed to have gone to Versailles and picked out all the most thorny points in the Peace Treaty; that they had introduced not only a Polish Corridor but several Danzigs and Memels. I would remind the noble Viscount that the Royal Commission did not even stop there. They have taken an unfortunate precedent from an earlier page in history. In South Africa it was the outside interests in the Rand which eventually led to the Jameson Raid. Let me say that we do not want any Jameson Raids repeated in Palestine. We did not create the problem of the Rand in South Africa. It was there. But having had that experience it does seem the height of folly deliberately and with our eyes open to create two new Rands in Palestine. It may be said that these are mere details capable of adjustment, and with that I quite agree. As the partition scheme can never be brought into operation merely by Act of Parliament in this country, and can only be made to operate by a number of treaties, I have no doubt that these matters will be dealt with ultimately by agreement. I have only mentioned them now to say that when we are discussing partition, and when we are asked, as I understand another place will be asked by the Government in the debate there, to approve the scheme of partition in principle, it must not be assumed that any particular feature of the recommendations of the Report must necessarily form part of the final settlement.


My Lords, my only justification for detaining your Lordships for a very few minutes at this late hour is that I have been privileged to be the British member of the Mandates Commission since its inauguration until last summer, when we discussed at great length the present condition of Palestine—the condition, in fact, which the Royal Commission found when they went there a month or two later. My place has been taken by the noble Lord, Lord Hailey, who will go next week to Geneva and listen to the debate on Palestine, and I feel that in these circumstances I am free to express my own opinion in your Lordships' House for whatever it may be worth. The proposals made by the Royal Commission are not, perhaps, on the general lines which have been anticipated by most people, but I am satisfied that, whatever might have been possible at an earlier date, the method of territorial partition is, at the present time and in existing circumstances, the most hopeful and, indeed, the only course which has any prospect of leading to favourable results. I do not propose at this late hour to discuss any of the problems raised in the Report of the Royal Commission, though I should like to express my admiration for the impartial and skilful way in which the problem has been presented, especially in the statement of the Arab case. The Commission seem to have been somewhat at a loss to understand why the Mufti of Jerusalem, who has been the focus of racial and anti-Government propaganda and practice, has been allowed to assume and to retain up to the present time the position that he holds. I was glad, now-ever, to see in the paper yesterday that there seems at last to be a prospect that an end will be put to his intrigues.

The substitution of treaties for existing Mandates recalls the course adopted by His Majesty's Government in the case of Iraq. The Council of the League on that occasion asked the advice of the Permanent Mandates Commission, and it was only after a long discussion and with a great deal of hesitation that the Mandates Commission agreed to the surrender of the Mandate in view of the very emphatic assurances given by the High Commissioner regarding the safety of minorities—assurances which, as you know, were very soon to be falsified in the case of the unfortunate Assyrians. The precedent of Iraq appears to have been superseded by the recent action of France, who, as far as I am aware, has made no reference at all either to the Mandates Commission or to the Council of her intention to surrender her Mandate. Moreover, in the present case this cause of anxiety will, or should be, eliminated, since the Royal Commission have recommended that both the Jewish and the Arab minorities shall be transferred to their own respective States. However, as has been explained by previous speakers, this operation would be attended with great difficulty and would take a great deal of time. I assume, therefore, that the existing Mandate will continue in operation until the successful completion of this very difficult task is, at any rate, in sight.

One word I should like to add regarding the neutral enclave, which will include the Holy Places of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. It seems to me a misnomer to call this small area a "Mandate," for it has no single characteristic of the other Mandates of the League of Nations. Their essential characteristic is a trusteeship terminable when the population can stand alone, together with an annual report to the League of Nations on the progress made in that connection, and also a report on whether various clauses in the Mandate have been observed. This small enclave, on the other hand, is rather in the nature of a very onerous guardianship of sacred shrines which will probably remain in perpetuity. The guardianship will not only be on behalf of rival races on the spot, but on behalf of Christendom, all Jewry, and Islam throughout the world. There is, on the other hand, nothing in principle, however difficult it may be in practice, to prevent the four Cities in the north from being placed under Mandates which will be terminable if and when the Mandates can be safely surrendered. Such questions, however, are, of course, subordinate to the main proposition of the partition of the country, and I hope that your Lordships will be in general agreement with the conclusions of this Report.


My Lords, at the outset I should like to join in the general chorus of praise of this remarkable Report, drawn up by such accomplished people headed by my noble friend Earl Peel, who I presume has an unrivalled experience in matters of this description. Since the Report was published the Government have issued a statement referring to the fact that successive Governments in this country have undertaken obligations to Arabs and Jews respectively, but not incompatible obligations. It seems that the wish is father to the thought in this case, because anybody who knows anything about Palestine—and I was there as a traveller in 1919—will realise at once how conflicting are the various parties in that country. So much impressed was I that I remember writing a private letter to Lord Curzon exhorting him to be very careful in accepting any responsibility for the administration of that country. Of course I had no prejudice against the Jews, as I had spoken at a very big meeting held in 1917 in favour of Mr. Balfour's Declaration and the National Home. But I was enormously impressed by the danger of our taking any part in proceedings in Palestine; hence my letter to Lord Curzon.

Now we are told in the Report that there is no hope of permanent peace under the Mandate, and the noble Earl, Lord Peel, broadcast recently that the present system must end in disaster. And on page 141 the Report says: …the hatred of the Arab politician for the National Home has never been concealed and…has now permeated the Arab population as a whole. It is sometimes forgotten that the Mandate was never really properly executed. Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations provides that the wishes of the people must be ascertained. The wishes of the Arabs were never ascertained. They were known perhaps to be in favour of America, and that after America this country should hold the Mandate. Originally the Arabs wanted Syria and Palestine to be kept together as one unit, and a Commission was to be appointed. The French realised that they would never get a Mandate from the Syrian population, and therefore they sent no representative before the Commission, so that the Commission came to nothing. The result has been that the Arabs have never expressed their views about having a Mandate. That was in 1919, when feelings were not so embittered as they are to-day. I think we must remember that in considering the feelings of the Arabs, and while we sympathise very greatly with the Jews in their distress in various countries, it seems to me that in doing good to them we robbed Peter to pay Paul. We never consulted the Arabs, and they cannot be accused of having done anything disloyal or contrary to any undertaking into which they entered.

The Report of the Commission sets out that there is a strong national feeling of friendship for the Jews in Great Britain. That is perfectly true, and is instanced by the fact that the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, was appointed the first High Commissioner in Palestine, an office which he filled with great credit to himself and advantage to Palestine. The Arabs feel, however, that they are ignored in this country, and that we are influenced by Jewish surroundings. In 1922 they sent over a delegation, and I attended a great meeting. In June, 1922, the late Lord Islington brought forward a Motion in this House, to the effect that the Mandate in its present form was unacceptable to this House. That Resolution was carried by a majority of sixty in favour and twenty-nine against. I think this House on that occasion showed great foresight. It showed more foresight on that occasion than last year, when this House condemned altogether a proposal, made by the Arab administration, for a Legislative Council in Palestine. That was supported by the Government, but not a single speaker outside Government circles spoke in its favour. It was disastrous, because the Arabs' feeling that they had no sympathy here, or in another place, resulted in the General Strike being forced on, which led to such terrible instances of terrorism.

I hope that this proposed partition may be carefully examined. If it is examined by both sides I think it may be the means of bringing together the various sections of the two contending people. I understand from what the noble Viscount said that there is a movement now for reconstructing the present Mandate by mutual understanding and good will. If that is the case I think it is the one chance of our being saved from disaster. Lord Melchett's only remedy was a firm hand. I think our experience of a firm hand has not been very satisfactory, and I trust that discussions may lead to a better understanding of what either side wants. The noble Viscount went into various details as to the difficulties which might arise in effecting partition, but he did not mention Customs duties. Without a common tariff, it seems almost impossible that there should be satisfactory Customs laws established. There is this point, too: Are our liabilities and responsibilities to be lessened by this scheme? Would they be shared with the League of Nations, or should we have to bear the whole liability for preserving peace and order in Palestine, and the regions round about?

There is one more point, which is not strictly germane to the partition. In the early part of the century, Mr. Chamberlain tried to see whether a Jewish colony or settlement could be made in Uganda. It was not endorsed by the Jewish communities at that time, but things have changed since then, and it might be that such a proposal now would be favourably regarded by the Jewish magnates. Already two Jewish societies are, I believe, in existence which are interested in establishing Jewish settlements in South America. That seems to me to be a possible help in regard to Palestine itself. I do not believe that Palestine can hold these millions of Jews, as the Zionists hold out, and it would give relief to other Jews in Central Europe if it were possible to establish these places of refuge in South America and elsewhere. Whether this partition goes through or not it is desirable to help the settlement of Jews on a large scale. It would relieve the pressure in Palestine. I trust, however, that some good will will be established between the Arabs and Jews, so as to make a scheme, whether of partition or amendment of the Mandate, available.


I beg to move that the debate be now adjourned.

Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.—(The Marquess of Reading.)

On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly till tomorrow.


My Lords, it will no doubt be for the convenience of your Lordships that we suspend our proceedings for a short time, and I understand it would be convenient that we should meet again at nine o'clock, when it will be proposed to proceed with the other Orders on the Paper.

[The sitting was suspended at nine minutes before eight o'clock and resumed at nine o'clock.]