HL Deb 27 March 1923 vol 53 cc639-69

LORD ISLINGTON had placed the following Notice on the Paper:—

To ask His Majesty's Government whether in the election for the Legislative Council just concluded in Palestine it is not a fact that the whole Arab electorate refrained from voting in protest against the new Constitution: whether, in view of this protest by so overwhelming a majority of the population of Palestine, His Majesty's Government will not now consider the desirability of modifying the Constitution so as to bring it into closer accord with the sentiments of the native population and the Arab community throughout the East: and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the question that I am addressing to His Majesty's Government this afternoon corresponds, in its main features, with the Motion that I moved in this House last year, when the Coalition Government were in power, and, as your Lordships will remember, that Motion was carried against the Government by a very decisive vote of this House.

I make no apology for raising the matter again, because the noble Marquess who is the Deputy Leader of this House told us last winter that the subject of the Zionist policy in Palestine was being very carefully examined by His Majesty's Government. I think it is a reasonable view, after the Government have been in office for several months, to say that ample time has been afforded them to consider the problem of Zionist policy in Palestine and to make a pronouncement to the House and the country upon it. Zionist policy in Palestine contributed its share, and no small share, I think, to the downfall of the late Administration. It assisted correspondingly in the accession to power of the present Administration. There are many gentlemen to-day occupying quite prominent positions in His Majesty's Government who were last year and the year before among the most active and vehement assailants of Zionist policy in Palestine, and this, of itself, would constitute a strong ground for early consideration of the whole policy of the Government in Palestine.

But recent events in Palestine have made a change of policy in that country a matter of overwhelming urgency. The Elections to the Legislative Council have recently been held there, and the Arab community, if not universally at any rate by an enormous majority, have refused to take any part in them as a protest against the Constitution which it is proposed to set up. In the judgment of the Arab—and I think with reason—the Constitution has been so framed that under it rhea, can be no hope in the future for any security that Palestinian sentiment can be expressed or given effect to. And when one comes to remember that between ninety and ninety-three per cent. of the population are Arab Moslems and Christians I think any one who peruses the draft of that Constitution must agree that it is one calculated to prevent the Palestinian sentiment being fully represented in the future. Apart from the Zionist complexion of that Constitution, it is one of the most arbitrary examples of Crown Colony systems that has been introduced for many years past. With a maximum of twenty-seven votes under the Constitution, at the outside only ten can he expressed by means of an Election in the interests of Arabs. The Governor's veto in the Constitution practically overrides any other powers and any one who examines it would agree that it is arbitrary in the extreme.

I know it has been contended, and it will probably be contended by the Government, that, given time, this Constitution will develop satisfactorily for all races and classes of the people in Palestine. The answer that I make is that that is not the view held by the people of Palestine. They say, and with reason, that the present Constitution affords no permanent security for the future as long as Zionism prevails as an integral and preponderating part of the administrative system, and that such a system can only develop in the years to come against their interests and sentiments. They require —and I think quite properly so—security from the Constitution that their votes may be given effect to. The Arabs of Palestine have taken effective action in refusing to accept this Constitution.

I am informed—and I shall be glad to hear from the noble Duke [the Duke of Devonshire] who I suppose will answer for the Government whether it is correct or not—that out of a possible 50,000, fewer than 200 secondary nominees have been secured. And the conduct of this Election has been very strange, amounting to what in any other country or under any other Constitution would be regarded as the extreme of irregularity. When, on the appointed day of the Election, it was found that no Arabs would take part in the proceedings, the Election was extended for no less a period than twelve days. I suppose that was done with the object of trying to induce the recalcitrant Arab community to think better of their decision and to vote, but, as I understand, that effort only produced negligible results. I consider that the Arab community in Palestine have exercised commendable restraint under great provocation. They have protested, and protested without violence, and in a constitutional manner. They have incidentally reduced to an absolute farce what I do not hesitate to call, I hope without offence, this parody of a Constitution. His Majesty's Government now, exercising their proper constitutional rights, should immediately modify this Constitution, so that it may be brought into accordance with the sentiments and desires of the Palestinian people.

Is it not a positive irony that Great Britain, of all countries in the world, under a, succession of Governments, should be a party to enforcing this unnatural form of Government upon a native people? Is there any other corner of the world where swill a system could be contemplated, still less put into operation? I ask the question with ail deliberateness: Why should Palestine be selected as the playground of this eccentric constitutional experiment? We have been told, and we may again be told to-day, that Jewish traditions for centuries past were connected with the territory of Palestine. But are there no Christian traditions, and those of the most sacred character, to be taken into account? Are there no Arab traditions, which, through the ages, cover a far greater period of time than the traditions of the Jewish race?

When first this policy of a Zionist home was proposed there is no doubt that it appealed to many people in this country. They accepted it in good faith and intention, and were attracted by its conception. It was adopted very precipitately, and it was adopted, I venture to say, with a very imperfect knowledge of the local conditions and sentiments of the country. Many who held the view four years ago, on closer acquaintance with this problem and after the experience of the past four years, have completely changed their opinion. Among those who have done so are many members of the Jewish persuasion. I wonder whether the, noble Earl, Lord Balfour—whom I do not see in his place—as the author and parent of this movement, would have directed his energy and exercised his powerful influence in its adoption could he have foreseen its effect? I very much doubt it. It must he admitted by all fair-minded people to-day that this adventure has proved to be a hopeless failure. It has failed politically. It has failed financially. And the longer it continues the greater will be the failure.

Let me remind the House of the situation in Palestine. Palestine is a small country with a population of, approximately, 700,000. Of that number only 80,000 are Jews. Forty thousand of those Jews are native Jews who have lived there for years, who have never asked for Zionism and who, I believe, dislike it to-day more than they did before. Forty thousand of those Jews have been imported from countries in Eastern Europe. It comes to this, therefore, that for the sake of 40,000 Jews imported from Eastern Europe the British Government have instituted this policy against the wishes of the Arabs and still persist in maintaining it. As we are all too painfully aware, this policy has been an extremely costly one for this country, and it is becoming more and more onerous for the unfortunate Palestinian taxpayer.

There is another point to which I should like to direct the attention of the House. Speaking as a layman, I believe that the whole of this Palestine scheme is steeped in irregularity if not in illegality. This House abounds in eminent lawyers, and I wish that some of them would examine the whole of the documents and look into and scrutinise all that has been done during the past four years. I believe they would find that the greater part of the administration in Palestine has been conducted on lines quite outside the law. There is to-day a Constitution in the country, which was established presumably under the authority of a Treaty and a Mandate. The Treaty has never been signed and the Mandate has never been ratified. I doubt whether the Mandate ever will be ratified, because it requires for ratification the signatures of all the countries concerned under the League of Nations.

As I have said, very large sums of money have been spent and very large sums of money are still being spent in this country. Heavy taxation is imposed on the people of Palestine. The noble Duke, I think, told us the other day in answer to a question from my noble friend Lord Sydenham, that £1,365,000 was the amount of the deficit for the current year, and that £900,000 had been borrowed through the Crown Agents. I would like to ask under what authority that £900,000 was advanced from this country to Palestine. It is not a mandated country. It is not a Crown Colony. Technically, I suppose you would say that it is enemy territory under military control but enemy territory under military control cannot command the resources of the Crown Agents. Therefore, I would like very much to know under what authority that money has been advanced. I see that it is now proposed to issue at an early date a loan of £2,500,000, on which, again, the unfortunate Palestinians will have to pay interest and sinking fund for redemption. I suppose it will be contended that this money is to be spent in large measure on improvements in the country, because my noble friend informed us the other day that some improvements wanted in the country were long overdue by many centuries. That may or may not be so; but I venture to think that these matters which involve the heavy taxation of the native population—a small and a poor population—should come under the consideration and receive the approval of this native population before heavy sums are laid upon their backs.

I come now to an old subject, and in ordinary circumstances I should apologise for alluding to it again, because it has been the subject of so many discussions in this House. That is the question of the pledge to the Arab community. I venture to say with full deliberation that the present Constitution is a definite violation of the pledge made by Great Britain to the Arab community. My noble friend Lord Sydenham, the other day in a most clear pronouncement, explained to the House and fully justified that assertion on my part, but I would like to say one word upon it. You all know the very positive declaration that was made as the result of a long correspondence in the year 1915 between His Majesty's Government, through our representative, Sir Henry McMahon, and the Sherif of Mecca.

As a result of that long correspondence, which resulted in reservations and exclusions from within the pledge, an undertaking was given in the following language by Sir Henry McMahon on behalf of the British Government: Subject to the above modifications, Great Britain is prepared to recognise and support the independence of the Arabs within the territories included in the limits and boundaries proposed by the Sherif of Mecca. Now those boundaries ranged broadly from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea and from the extreme north of Syria to the Indian Ocean. In the course of that correspondence, the claim was made by the British Government to exclude from the pledge of independence the northern portions of Syria because that territory was allotted to French jurisdiction. The way in which that was described at the time was quite clear, and anyone who looks at the map can see that it was quite clear. It was described as being that territory which lay to the west of a line from the city of Damascus, through Homs, Hama, up to Aleppo and away up to Mersina. The undertaking which I have just read took that exclusion into consideration, and, therefore, all the rest of the Arab territory would come under the undertaking.

Last year Mr. Churchill, with considerable ingenuousness, of which, when in a difficult situation, he is an undoubted master, produced an entirely new description of that line, which was perfectly described and clearly understood in 1915. His interpretation was that it was not the city of Damascus that was referred to but the vilayet of Damascus. He implied that the vilayet of Damascus included Palestine, and that, therefore, Palestine was in the excluded territory. There are two answers to that. The first is that there is no such thing as the vilayet of Damascus. The second is the confirmation of the noble Marquess who leads this House, who, very definitely, in a correspondence with King Feisal, when he was arranging about the boundaries for his territory, laid it down that that line from Damascus to Aleppo only included the towns and not the territory within the suburbs.

If you could have further confirmation it is this. In the year 1918, when Zionism had been projected, it was found necessary in the interests of peace and tranquillity in Palestine, to make another declaration, and that declaration was made through a Proclamation Translated into the whole of the vernaculars in Palestine, and posted in every village throughout Palestine. It read as follows: The War is to assure the complete and fund liberation of the people long oppressed by Turks, and the establishment of government and administration deriving their authority from the initiative and free desire of the native population: They are far from wishing to impose any form of government on the people against their will. How, my Lords, can you reconcile the posting of this Proclamation in Palestine in the year 1918 with the assertion of Mr. Churchill—I regret to say sustained by the noble Duke in a speech he made the other day—as to the exclusion of Palestine as laid down by the argument of the vilayet. Is it conceivable that a Proclamation of that character could be posted in every village in Palestine if Palestine was excluded from the purview of independence among the Arab community? I venture to say that the case is completely exploded. No one who has studied, as many of us have, the whole correspondence that has taken place, believes for one moment that it was ever suggested that Palestine should be ex- cluded. There is not an Arab throughout the East who believes in it, and nobody outside the Colonial Office who has studied it believes in it in this country.

Before I conclude I should like, if your Lordships will allow me the indulgence, to put one further consideration, to my mind very important, before you in regard to the whole question. It has an important bearing on the whole of our future policy in the East, and it is closely related to our policy in Palestine. I know that many regard this policy of Zionism as in the nature of an experiment, and say that after all it is a trivial matter, because Palestine is a very small place and the experiment of developing Zionism is one worth trying. It is a small territory, and the experiment, they say, has very confined issues limited, for better or for worse, within the area of this small country about the size of Wales. All experience is showing it to be true that the issues that are arising from Zionism in Palestine extend far beyond the geographical limits of the territory of Palestine. The effect upon the whole Arab and Moslem world to-day is a most unfortunate one. It has infected large masses of that world with discontent and indignation, produced by the indignity that is being imposed upon them by this system. Within the last few months I know as a fact—I have no doubt my noble friend knows it also—that in the holy city of Mecca indignation meetings have been held in protest against Zionism in Palestine. Those meetings have been attended by pilgrims drawn from all parts of the East. The whole Moslem world has been represented at the meetings, and very violent speeches have been made. There has been grave denunciation of British administration, and, ii have no doubt, very exaggerated views have been advanced to these innocent people.

It is quite clear, to-day, that this policy of Zionism is being used in the East as a peg and a touch-stone for the agitator who has hostile motives and intentions towards Great Britain. There are many in the East to-day who would gladly undermine our prestige and our authority throughout the East and your Lordships must readily see what a potent weapon for our enemies a case like this must be. Apart from the potency of the weapon, this agitation is causing grave difficulty and embarrassment to many Arabs, and especially to King Hussein, of the Hejaz, who, with his followers, is most desirous to maintain their loyal allegiance to Great Britain.

I ask your Lordships to reflect for a moment upon the situation of the Arabs throughout this very considerable territory, which has now been emancipated from the régime of the Turk. It lies, as I said, from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, and from the north of Syria to the Indian Ocean. Since the Turk has been withdrawn from this territory there have been established a number of small Arab States. There is one in North Syria under the French, unfortunately cut in half, as it were, by the Sykes-Picot agreement. There is one in Palestine, one in Trans-Jordania, one in Hejaz and one in Iraq. Then there is the territory under the Ibn Saud in South Central Arabia to whom, incidentally I might mention, we are still paying a subsidy of £6,000 a month, or £72,000 a year. That subsidy, which I consider quite unnecessary, is leading to mischief in that district, because it is creating great embarrassment to the King of the Hejaz.

Each of these small Arab States is under a separate Government, and there are different kinds of governments—some of them, in our judgment, very bad forms of government. They stand isolated, they have no cohesion one with the other, they are utterly unrelated to each other, and in some cases there are signs of conflict emerging between one and another. They are so weak in their present position, and so vulnerable, that they must sooner or later afford a very tempting bait for intrigue, if not worse—intrigue which will be taken full advantage of by neighbouring and stronger Powers, who may cast an eye on them with malign intention towards the peace and tranquillity of the Arab States as well as towards British interests in the East. Surely the permanency of an independent Arab State can only be realised by the formation of an Arab federation. Where each puny State, as we see to-day, is in a most precarious and weak condition, it would rapidly become strong, possessing its full national authority, if it were federated under a Federal Government and a federal ruler. This was the late Lord Kitchener's conception of the development of an Arab State. I know it is the earnest desire of many of the most representative of the Arab community, and I suggest that His Majesty's Government should give it careful consideration in order that an early endeavour should be made by Great Britain to encourage, assist and advise the representatives of these various States to come together and adopt a system of federation.

We have played the foremost part in the creation of many of these States. We cannot undertake the impossible task of permanently and indefinitely controlling and defending them in their isolation. It is far too expensive. Public opinion is growing in volume against the cost of these adventures, and a demand, increasing in intensity, is coming for an immediate withdrawal and the cutting of all expenditure. The situation is fraught with many potential dangers, and I do not believe, unless something in the nature of federation is developed, that you will ever be able to see real Arab nationality. The policy of federation, of course, presents many difficulties, but they are not insuperable because there are so many willing people to give the policy support. The matter does, however, require at the hands of the British Government the quality of energy. Tranquil passivity will never do it, and without federation our position in the East will undoubtedly deteriorate. It is the only logical and practical outcome of the present incomplete stage of Arab emancipation, and it is the only means, offering any hope of permanency and security, for the Arab people to become in the true sense of the word a nation.

To realise this with success the component parts of this prospective Arab Federation must be sound in regard to their Constitution. In that connection I especially allude to Palestine and to Iraq, Further, as a prelude, you must set in order the position in Palestine. In any attempt- at federation hereafter you must grant to that country a form of government representative of its people, whether they are Moslems or Christians or Jews. I cannot expect the noble Duke to reply now on this broader question, and I allude to it only because it is so very germane to the subject. But I hope that it will be given very careful consideration. At any rate, I trust that the noble Duke, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, will this afternoon he in a position to give us a clear and satisfactory pronouncement as to the future course of the policy that is to be adopted in Palestine.

I beg to move that for the information of the House and the country a Return be granted by the Government showing the Budget accounts in Palestine during the past year in regard both to taxation and to loans, and also a Return giving a full report of the recent Election in Palestine, explaining the method of the Election and stating the number of those who voted and those who did not vote.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty—

  1. (1) for papers showing the Budget accounts in Palestine during the past year both in regard to taxation and loans; and
  2. (2) for a full report of the recent elections in Palestine, explaining the methods exployed and giving the numbers of both those who voted and those who did not vote.— (Lord Islington.)


My Lords, I think my noble friend has made out an overwhelming case for a complete reconsideration of the whole of our past policy in regard to Palestine. The fiasco of the recent Election, to which he has referred, is a striking proof of the accuracy of much that has been said in your Lordships' House. The Palestinians, Moslems and Christians—the vast majority of the people of Palestine and the rightful owners of the soil—have now shown in the best way open to them, and greatly to their credit, that they distrust and protest against Zionist autocracy which was forced upon them by His Majesty's late Government. Anyone who studies Mr. Churchill's Constitution for Palestine must come to the conclusion my noble friend has reached—namely, that it gives no real power to the people at all and is artfully devised, obviously devised, to retain Zionist authority in Zionist interests.

The Palestinians have most emphatically declared that they will not assist in setting up this tricky and deceptive Constitution. The question now is what. His Majesty's Government propose. Surely the time has come for a complete reconsideration of their policy; and if they are not able to announce one to-day I am sure the noble Duke will take into consideration all the important points which have been laid before your Lordships' House by my noble friend. The other day I tried to show that we had distinctly and flagrantly violated the pledges given in 1915 to the Sherif of Mecca. I still cherish a faint hope that the noble Duke will be able to publish the whole of that correspondence, or at any rate those parts of it which are relevant to my contention. I may be disappointed. But whatever happens, whatever may be said about that correspondence, there can be no doubt whatever as to the terms of General Allenby's Proclamation in November, 1918. Those terms were announced by His Majesty's Government, in agreement with the French Government, in every village and every town in Palestine. My noble friend has quoted them and your Lordships will see how clear and distinct is the promise then given to the Palestinians. That Proclamation alone gives to the Palestinians the right to say that we have broken faith with them.

But there is another question at the back of this farcical Election. Have we the right, in international law to set up any form of election before the Mandate has been ratified? From a recent answer to a Question in another place, it appears that we are now administering Palestine "at the request"—these are the words—of the President of the League of Nations. I hope it is not disrespectful to that potentate to say that I do not think his authority suffices to cover all that we have done and are now doing in Palestine. I cannot help regarding this Election as a further instance of proceedings which are ultra vices until the Mandate has been fully ratified and until there has been something substituted for the Treaty of Sévres.

And take another point referred to by my noble friend. Have we any right to impose a loan of £2,500,000 on the Palestinian taxpayers until we have their free consent? I ask your Lordships to remember that that loan is the exact equivalent of the whole revenue of Palestine. It is just as if before the war we suddenly raised a loan of £200,000,000 in this country. I contend that we have no right to take that step and that it cannot really be justified in international law. I repeat the wish of my noble friend that some great lawyer could be induced to look carefully into this matter and give us his reasoned opinion, because I feel that a mere layman must be regarded as out of court in dealing with such a matter as this.

I do again humbly beg His Majesty's Government to consider whither they are going to be led if they continue to follow in the steps of their predecessors. Last year the monthly average of Zionists dumped on the shores of the Holy Land was 654. Last January 872 arrived, and in February 888. In addition, immigrants are constantly passing over the northern frontier, unchecked and unnumbered, so that nobody knows what the true figures are. All this is directly contrary to the wishes of the vast majority of the people of Palestine, including, I am certain, a great many of the old Palestinian Jews. The people of Palestine would stop it at once were it not for the British Forces, maintained in Palestine at the expense of the British taxpayer. Many of these immigrants are totally unfit to colonise a barren country with a climate like that of Palestine. Some, as we know, are Bolsheviks who have already shown their qualities in a most striking and unpleasant manner, and these people are, of course, becoming more and more a charge upon the Palestinian taxpayers. I could give the. Government proofs that this is going on.

Some time ago Mr. Henry Morgenthau, a very eminent American Jew who was Ambassador to Turkey and who knows the Palestinian country personally, declared that Zionism was spiritually and economically false. It must: be for Jews alone to decide whether Zionism is spiritually false, but it is open to the gentile, if he keeps his eyes open, to show that it is certainly economically false. In Mr. Morgenthau's recent book there is a striking chapter in which he emphasises the view that he gave several years ago, and, what is still more significant, at the recent great Jewish Jubilee Convention in America some speakers roundly condemned Zionism as a whole.

I think it is already clear that Zionism must break down economically. Funds are running short, and of the £750,000 recently collected only 2½ per cent. were subscribed by Jews in this country, a fact which surely goes to show that to Jews who live with us in England Zionism is not an object of first-class importance. In Palestine itself salaries are not being paid. Some immigrants have had to leave and others are in a wretched state. As I said the other day, there were fourteen suicides among them in two months. In addition, there are already 2,500 unemployed; and 2,500 unemployed in Palestine is the same thing as 1,500,000 unemployed here, so that it may almost be said that unemployment is greater and more stringent in Palestine at the present moment than it is among ourselves.

Surely, at a time when there is unemployment to so great an extent, it cannot he right to go on sending more and more of these helpless immigrants into the Holy Land. Dr. Butenberg, the monopolist contractor whom the late Government selected, has not been able to raise the sums which he requires for his great projects, and his achievement up to date has been to hold up some exceedingly hopeful Arab enterprises. All this is well known to many Jews here and in America. Many of them have always been anti-Zionists, although they have not all felt able to proclaim their views. I implore His Majesty's Government to put an end to the present situation before they get into much worse difficulties than at present.

Palestine, as my noble friend has said, is a very little country, but for a curious variety of reasons it is an extraordinarily important country. Communication between Jerusalem and Mecca is constantly going on, and our proceedings, as my noble friend said, are creating unrest throughout the whole of the Arab world. In Mecca not long ago leaflets were being handed about among pilgrims from the most distant parts in which the Zionist flag was represented as adorning the Mosque of Omar and one can easily imagine how inflammatory must be leaflets of that kind among the Arab and Moslem population. Mecca is, and always has been, a great centre of Moslem propaganda, which spreads thence all over India and deeply into the heart of Africa. At the present time the Angora Turks are again trying to tamper with the Arabs, and the harm which is being done by our proceedings in Palestine spreads far and wide and is quite impossible to reduce to calculation. I feel certain that there can be no peace in the Near East until His Majesty's Govern- ment have found themselves able to change the policy into which their predecessors so recklessly flung them. In the best interests of the Zionists, of the Arabs and of ourselves, I urge the Government to act at once and to give British justice, however tardy, to the Palestinians.


My Lords, the noble Lord who moved for this Return and the noble Lord who has just followed him have put some very pertinent and, I think, very fair questions, to which I hope the noble Duke, on behalf of the Government, will be able to reply. I hope, at any rate, that he will be able to grant the Return for which my noble friend moved. It is a Return of the money advanced to Palestine and of information about the last Election. Those are matters of very limited scope, and l cannot think that anything which the noble Duke has said previously with regard to the difficulty of publishing Papers on the subject can apply to this very moderate request of my noble friend.

I do not propose to go in any detail over the points which have already been traversed by the two noble Lords who have spoken. I would rather confine myself to some general observations on the very important, but exceedingly difficult. and disagreeable, position in which we find ourselves placed in the Near East, and more particularly in Palestine. There are two points involved. One is the point of our honour, and the other the point of our interest. The controversy which has gone on for so long cannot but have made tie feel that there is room for sensitiveness on the point of our honour. The allegations made are that. British Governments have given various pledges which are inconsistent with each other. Up to December, 1916, I was a member first of the Liberal Government and then of the first Coalition Government which had charge of the conduct of the war. So far as I can remember, though I have not corrected my memory since, up to the time that the first Coalition Government left office many secret engagements had been made, but there were not any, I think, which were inconsistent with each other.

I do not propose to go into the question of the individual merits of this matter or the individual responsibilities respectively of any one of the three British Governments which were charged with the conduct of the war. I want to look at the question as a whole. Numbers of secret engagements were made. Secrecy, of course, is exceedingly obnoxious and undesirable, but in time of war it cannot be avoided. In time of peace it would be indefensible, but in time of war, and especially in such a war as this, when you have many Allies and it is necessary to preserve solidarity with them, secrecy is unavoidable, and I have never had any sympathy with the suggestion that those engagements ought not to have been kept secret when made. Secrecy in engagements made during war is as inevitable as is the use of poison gas, and other things which are indefensible in time of peace. But now, in time of peace, our honour is impugned on the ground that these engagements are inconsistent with one another.

I do not propose to go into the question whether the engagements are inconsistent with one another, but I think it is exceedingly probable that there are inconsistencies. In time of war you have to consider the direct and immediate consequences of what you do, and the pressure of the emergency is so great that no Government has much time in which to consider what the indirect and ulterior consequences may be. So long as the direct and immediate consequences appear to be necessary for the conduct of the war, that is all that a Government engaged in war can contemplate at the moment. But after the war is over you find yourselves involved, not in the immediate, but in the indirect and more permanent, consequences of the engagements which have been undertaken during the war, and they are in this case, as I think they will be found to he in every war, exceedingly embarrassing.

A considerable number of these engagements, or some of them, which have not been officially made public by the Government, have become public through other sources. Whether all have become public I do not know, but. I seriously suggest to the Government that the best way of clearing our honour in this matter is officially to publish the whole of the engagements relating to the matter, which we entered into during the war. If they are found to be not inconsistent with one another our honour is cleared. If they turn out to be inconsistent, I think it will be very much better that the amount, character and extent of the inconsistencies should be known, and that we should state frankly that, in the urgency of the war, engagements were entered into which were not entirely consistent with each other.

I am sure that we cannot redeem our honour by covering up our engagements and pretending that there is no inconsistency, if there really is inconsistency. I am sure that the most honourable course will be to let it be known what the engagements are, and, if there is inconsistency, then to admit it frankly, and, admitting that fact, and having enabled people to judge exactly what is the amount of the inconsistency, to consider what is the most fair and honourable way out of the impasse into which the engagements may have led us. Without comparing one engagement with another, I think that we are placed in considerable difficulty by the Balfour Declaration itself. I have not the actual words here, but I think the noble Duke opposite will not find fault with my summary of it. It promised a Zionist home without prejudice to the civil and religious rights of the population of Palestine. A Zionist home, my Lords, undoubtedly means or implies a Zionist Government over the district in which the home is placed, and if 93 per cent. of the population of Palestine are Arabs, I do not see how you can establish other than an Arab Government, without prejudice to their civil rights. That one sentence alone of the Balfour Declaration seems to me to involve, without over-stating the case, very great difficulty of fulfilment.

The Government have tried to solve it by the Constitution which Lord Islington has described. It is clear that that has not satisfied the Arab population that there is no prejudice to their civil rights, and my noble friend urged that there should be some further attempt to reconcile this exceedingly difficult proposition by a modification of the Constitution. I do not speak with any want of sympathy about a Zionist home. We have all, or most of us, been brought up to be very familiar with Jewish history from about the year 1,400 B.C. to the early years of the Roman Empire, and I admit that I was one of those who, when the Declaration was made, did not feel any antipathy to the idea of a Zionist home, but, on the contrary, so far as the principle of a Zionist home was concerned, I regarded it with a certain degree of sentiment and sympathy. It is not from any prejudice with regard to that matter that I speak, but I do see that the situation is an exceedingly difficult one, when it is compared with the pledges which undoubtedly were given to the Arabs. It would be very desirable, from the point of view of honour, that all these various pledges should be set out side by side, and then, I think, the most honourable thing would be to look at them fairly, see what inconsistencies there are between them, and, having regard to the nature of each pledge and the date at which it was given, with all the facts before us, consider what is the fair thing to be done.

Now, from the point of view of interest, I think it is really very desirable that we should not enter into a commitment—that we should get rid of these commitments in the Near East. I know that the present Government inherited these commitments as a Government, and that although some individual members were parties to them the Government as a whole are not responsible for them. That gives them an opportunity of reviewing these commitments with an open and impartial mind. All new commitments since the war which may involve this country in the use of force are things which need very careful consideration, and which ought to be avoided if possible, but the most undesirable commitment of all is the commitment which is likely to involve the use of force not against an external enemy, but against the very people in the territory in whose interests the commitment purports to have been undertaken. It is in Palestine that I am afraid we are drifting into that very sort of commitment.

We have too many of them already, and I think the Government are running a great risk by letting the question of these commitments drift. I would urge that commitments of this kind, including applications to the League of Nations for Mandates, should not be entered into without previous consultation with the Governments of the self-governing Dominions, and, I think also, without giving Parliament an opportunity of discussing them. Palestine is but one example of more than one instance since the Armistice in which commitments had been entered into, or Mandates applied for, without such consultation, so far as I know, with the self-governing Dominions, and without Parliament having an opportunity of expressing an opinion.

I believe that the moral of the war is that if the vital interests of this country are threatened in future our people will again show the same indomitable spirit which they displayed for those four years; but another moral of the war is also, I am sure, present in the minds of those who proved their manhood and their courage by fighting at the front—namely, that they are not prepared to go through that again unless it be in the vital interests of this country. I fear that, with regard to these commitments, of which Palestine is an instance, the Government will find themselves in a very precarious, and perhaps an impossible, position if they allow the matter to drift in a way which eventually involves us in the use of large forces and the expenditure of a great deal of money on transport, supplies, and equipment. The country will not consent to do again what was done in Mesopotamia in the early years after the war, when a vast amount of money was spent in using force with regard to the local population.

I am not pressing for a new declaration of policy in Palestine to he made suddenly, hut I should like to say very seriously to the Government that, unless they can straighten out this difficulty and prevent this question from drifting till there really is a hostile population, which has to be treated as a hostile population, and not a friendly one, they may find themselves one day in the impossible position of either having to abandon the commitment which they have acknowledged, or of having to uphold that commitment by an expenditure of money and a use of force of which they would find the country is not prepared to approve.


My Lords, under the guise of a fairly simple Question, asking for definite information on a certain number of points, my noble friend has raised a debate which, I am sure your Lordships will agree, is of first-class importance. I certainly have no desire to find fault with him for having done so; indeed, the speech which we have just heard from the noble Viscount who leads the Opposition is one of material help in the very difficult problems which we have to face.

As I have already informed your Lordships on previous occasions, there is a difficulty in the publication of these Despatches. For one thing, we have to secure—I do not for one moment say it would be impossible—the assent of King Hussein, and possibly of others, before the Despatches are published. In the second place, possibly owing to the peculiar circumstances in which the communications were made, there were many other matters, entirely apart from the subject which we are now discussing, which, in the public interest, it would not be advisable to make public. After the weighty and authoritative speech to which we have listened from the Leader of the Opposition I can only undertake to give my most serious consideration to the matter. I can assure him that the Government are not allowing it to drift. We were awaiting, and are awaiting, the results—perhaps merely negative results, certainly very disappointing results from our point of view—of the Election; and when we get them we shall be in a better position to consider the matter. But I hope your Lordships will accept my assurance that this question, whose great difficulty I have no wish to deny, is receiving the most careful consideration.

My noble friend who raised this discussion specifically asked for information on two points. One is about the financial position, and the money which has been advanced by the Crown Agents. I should like to consider that. On the spur of the moment I personally see no objection to giving the information, though I think that most of it is already public. It may be possible for me, perhaps, to put the facts into a form which will convey the information which the noble Lord requires. The second point concerns the results of the Election, and my noble friend asks whether the whole of the Arab electorate refrained from voting. It is not correct to say that the whole Arab population abstained from voting, because a very considerable number, or rather a number, of Arabs did exercise their privileges. My noble friend and other noble Lords who are interested in this matter are probably well acquainted with the rather complicated system which has been adopted in that country. It is one with which most people in this country are unfamiliar, but I understand it is by no means unfamiliar in Palestine, as it had its origin in Turkish times, and therefore it is not the absolutely novel departure which my noble friend suggested.

The system is one in which, as primary electors, all the male citizens of Palestine over 25 years of age are entitled to vote. They elect a number of secondary electors. These secondary electors are divided into electoral colleges for the purpose of nominating candidates, and, from the latest information which I have received, nominations took place in 128 out of 436 voting areas. Voting took place in 20 of those voting areas. The total number of secondary electors who were elected, with or without poll, could be divided into the following categories:—Moslems, 107 out of 670; Jews, 79 out of 79; Christians, 19 out of 59; and Druses, 8 out of 15. Those are the last available figures that I have. I admit that the result is disappointing and it would be foolish for me to deny the fact; but I do not think, from the figures I have presented to your Lordships, that one would be justified in stating that the whole electorate refrained from voting.

Under the powers of the High Commissioner, which he has exercised with my authority and approval, the period has been extended till the end of May and, therefore, it must be some time before the final result can be known. It would be impossible for me to attempt any forecast. Although many of your Lordships hold very strong opinions on these points, I hope I may be allowed to make a most earnest appeal to your Lordships not to use language which may embitter a very difficult position locally and which will add very materially to the difficulties both of the High Commissioner and of the British Government. I am in close communication with the High Commissioner; in fact, day by day, and very often many times a day, I am receiving telegrams from him as to the progress of events, and I can only say that I shall endeavour to keep in close communication with him and to give His Majesty's Government the best advice I can on the difficult and complicated situation in which we find ourselves.

As no doubt your Lordships are aware, the late Government, in setting up this Constitution, regarded it as a first step towards self-government. They were entitled to do that, I think, under Article 2 of the Mandate, and, taking all things into consideration, it seems to me that they were justified in proceeding tentatively and in not advancing too rapidly under present conditions. I regret, and very sincerely regret, that so large a number of Palestinians rejected this first instalment. I do not wish to look at the matter from a prejudiced point of view, but I think they were not wisely inspired, and I doubt whether in their own interests they had anything to gain by adopting this negative attitude. They would have been better advised, I think, to co-operate with the High Commissioner and the British Government in, at any rate, endeavouring to lay the foundations of that which it was hoped would eventually lead to a complete form of self-government. Even under this Constitution they would have had a very practical share in the administration of their country. I cannot help thinking that they would have shown that they were fitted and qualified for an advance in self-government had they accepted this as a first instalment.

If I can, I shall furnish the information which was requested by my noble friend who asked the Question. At the moment there is little to be gained by a more detailed discussion, as the final issues, for the reason I have given your Lordships, are still uncertain. But if I can furnish the information which has been asked for by the Leader of the Opposition, he will, of course, remember that we, the Government, are not responsible for any of the proceedings or pledges which were given. It is in some ways more difficult for us to publish information for which we are not ourselves responsible; but certainly I shall endeavour to see whether the information can be given for the benefit of the House and of the country.


My Lords, this is not the first time that the noble Lord, Lord Islington, has invited your attention to the grave and difficult question of the government of Palestine. I am bound to say that I think he has rendered a great service in what he has done, because he has enabled your Lord- ships to obtain a wider and better view of this Question than is possible from the mere perusal of newspapers and casual documents, which, up to the moment, are practically all the material upon which we have to depend. The noble Duke has replied to the debate in a speech so frank and so conciliatory that, if he has not wholly disarmed criticism, he has, at least, blunted its edge. My position is made a little difficult when he begs of us not to render a difficult situation even yet more hard by indulging in acute controversy on matters upon which many of us feel very deeply indeed.

The noble Lord, Lord Islington, and the noble Lord, Lord Sydenham, suggested that, it would be well if some eminent lawyer would look into these Papers. Personally I disclaim any qualification of eminence, and I am never very fond of being appealed to as a lawyer. I would rather approach this matter as a very plain and simple citizen, and I should like to ask His Majesty's Government where it is that we stand. I should like to ask how we got there, and I should like to know which way we are going to move? The real question as to how we stand is undoubtedly involved in these communications which have never yet officially been made public, and the noble Duke has said that there are many reasons why it is difficult now to publish them—among ethers that the consent of King Hussein must be obtained.

He did not tell us whether he was intending now at once to apply for that permission, and that, I think, is the first thing we ought to know. Are steps being taken to secure that as far as possible all consents will be given to enable this publication to be made? If so, we shall have got rid of one preliminary difficulty, a preliminary difficulty which, I admit, does not seem to be a very serious one, for the reason that what purports to be a complete copy of these Despatches has already been published in the Press, and I have yet to learn that the Government has repudiated those communications as inaccurate. We ought, surely, to know that, because it is impossible that documents of such importance should be published broadcast without the Government accepting or rejecting the accuracy of their contents.

If those documents are accurate—and I am bound to say that, upon the face of them, they appear to me to be perfectly sound—they show unmistakably that there has not been, as the noble Viscount, Lord Grey, suggested, something in the nature of casual inconsistency between different announcements at different times, but that a deliberate pledge has been given on the one hand, which has been abandoned on the other. No amount of examination and no amount of comparison will ever enable the two things to be reconciled, because these documents show that, after an elaborate correspondence in which King Hussein particularly asked to have his position made plain and definite so that there should be no possibility of any lurking doubt as to where he stood as from that moment, he was assured that within a line that ran north from Damascus through named places, a line that ran almost due north from the south and away to the west, should be the area that should be he excluded from their independence, and that the rest should be theirs

After that it certainly does seem to me a little strange that in 1918 steps should be taken to secure the dominion of another people who were never mentioned at the time, and that the noble Duke should ask the inhabitants of Palestine to accept A Constitution so set up in order that they might work it as a step towards the independence which they had been deliberately and solemnly promised eight years before. I am hound to say that. I am not the least surprised that these people have rejected it, if, indeed, they are, as I believe them to be, actuated by a sincere, even though it be a misguided, notion of national independence. That is, the real position, and it is upon that that we desire the Government's assistance. It is no use pretending that we can keep our heads in the sand, and say that we are not in possession of information which is in the possession of everybody here. Until it is repudiated, until we are told it is nonsense, and that these statements are all untrue, we shall believe them. You might just as well make your official announcement in order that people may be in possession of official information. The unauthorised announcements might then be set at rest.

Upon that point I received very little satisfaction from the noble Duke's speech. If I interpret it in my own way, I should say that it meant this: "If you ask me personally I would gladly let you see the documents; I believe it is the right thing to do; but there are all sorts of difficulties, which it is not very easy to explain but which I must beg of you to understand, that prevent me doing that which I think ought to be done." That is the way I interpret the noble Duke's speech, and I cannot help hoping that the Government will take the spirit of his words rather than the letter of them unto their hearts, and will make a clean breast of the whole matter in order that we no longer may be living in the land of shadows and uncertainties, but that we may know whether the British honour has been pledged to these people, and whether we are doing the right thing to-day in persisting in a policy in direct contravention of our words.

I do not profess to have any knowledge of foreign politics. I have always believed that they can be summed up in two sentences. I believe that we ought to say what we mean, and I think we ought to do what we say. I believe it was because the noble Viscount, Lord Grey of Fallodon, took those simple phrases as his motto that he achieved the astonishing success which followed his discharge of the great and responsible duties of the Foreign Office. We certainly meant what we said in 1915. We did not do what we said in 1918. I would ask the Government even now to retrace their steps at the earliest moment, and go back to obedience to the promises that we gave at a moment when we were gravely beset by difficulties, to the relief of which the Arab help in no slight degree contributed.


My Lords, my noble friend who raised this debate this afternoon is to be heartily congratulated on the result. He has obtained at least two very weighty speeches, one from the noble Viscount opposite and one from the noble Duke. Those speeches are in a quite different tone from that of the speeches that we have been accustomed to hear previously from the front benches, and particularly from the Government front bench. The late Government treated almost with contempt the case put forward for the Arab. Their whole attitude was that they were acting strictly up to the letter of the very vague Balfour Declaration. There was one point my noble friend Lord Islington did not mention in connection with the Election. Not only have the Arabs abstained from voting, but I gather from a reply to a Question made the other day by the noble Duke that 19,000 of these alien Jewish immigrants, who had had only two months' residence in the country and who had not abandoned their nationality, were allowed to take part in the Election. The noble Duke appealed to us not to say anything provocative or anything likely to stir up strife. I agree with that, but when you allow a comparatively large body of aliens to vote against the interests of the inhabitants of the country, that in itself is enough to make those inhabitants feel vindictive.

The noble Viscount and Lord Buck-master both made an urgent appeal for the full publication of all the Papers connected with the Palestine question. I agree with that, although I think that indirectly we have been given the information by the publication of other Papers which have contained passages throwing light upon what took place. But there is one document that has not been alluded to, and this document I hope the Government will see their way to publish. I have on previous occasions asked for this publication, but upon one pretext or another the Government have always refused my request. Your Lordships may not now remember that in January, 1919, an International Mission was to have been appointed, consisting of representatives of Italy, France, ourselves, and the United States, to inquire into the whole Palestine question, lased on the famous Anglo-French Declaration of the previous year. France withdrew its representative, and finally we withdrew ours, leaving only the United States of America, who had already sent their representatives over to Europe. Those American representatives went on to Palestine. They carefully investigated the whole matter, both in Syria and in Palestine.

I have repeatedly asked for the publication of their Report, but it has always been refused. It has now been given in the American Press, and if it were published here as a Government Paper I think it would give all the information that has been asked for this afternoon by various speakers. It is a most informing Report. It goes in great detail into the whole matter. A most careful survey was made throughout this small territory. Facts and figures are given dealing with the question, and reference is made to the aspirations of the Arab population. I do not know whether I should be in order in doing so, but I should like to add to the Motion that this Report, which, after all, is an authoritative one, be included amongst the other Papers to be published. It can be obtained, no doubt, from the United States Government, and it should he made known to the public of this country.

I do not wish this evening to say any more upon this matter, except this. I was one who, at the outset, was pleased to think that the Jews were to have their own national home. I addressed a meeting on their behalf; therefore, it will be understood that I have no prejudice against the Zionist movement. It was only after a visit to Palestine and Syria that I was convinced of the absolute impossibility of realising this idea of a national home for the Jews in Palestine, except in a strictly religious sense. I became convinced that nothing but the presence of our troops could ever ensure its being made a workable proposition. Therefore, I trust that the Government of to-day will find some means by which they can reconcile the almost contradictory pledges that have been given. I admit it. is a very difficult matter. It is very hard no doubt on a number of Zionists, and on those miserable people who were living squalid and wretched lives in Poland and Russia, to have their hopes put on one side, but I am confident that Palestine is a country which would never fulfil their expectations as a land of plenty.

Moreover, it is impracticable ever to establish a Jewish system of government in that country except with the protection of our troops. We, however, have no direct interest in the establishment of such a system. The whole Zionist population of British origin is only 04 per cent., and they are officials who conduct the administration. After what we have heard from the noble Duke this afternoon I hope that the Government will be more favourably inclined to listen to the representatives of the Arab population, and that they may find some means of reconciling these two very distinctive and contradictory policies.


My Lords, the noble and learned Lord who has addressed the House this afternoon adjured the Government to retrace their steps. Any one who heard that observation without hearing the rest of the debate might have imagined that the policy which he was criticising was the policy of His Majesty's present Government. We cannot too often remind your Lordships and those who take an interest in this subject outside the House, that the policy with which we are dealing tonight is not the policy of the present Government. It is the policy of the late Government, to which we have succeeded. To this point full justice was done by the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition.

This subject divides itself into two divisions. There is the question of honour and there is the question of policy. As regards the question of honour, I thought the noble Viscount dealt with it very fairly and very judicially. I am not so sure that the noble and learned Lord was so judicial, though from his profession he might have been expected to be a little more so. I do not think he did as much justice as the noble Viscount did to the immense difficulties which must have presented themselves to the late Government when they were entering into engagements in the course of tremendous efforts during the war, with all the consequences which followed from any step they took. I say that with the more impartiality as I was not responsible for any Government action in the war; but I do recognise that those who bore that tremendous responsibility ought not to be criticised in the same way as a Government which is administering the affairs of the country in these comparatively peaceful times.

The noble Viscount has said: Why do you not publish your pledges to the country and let us see exactly how we stand? I think my noble friend the Colonial Secretary replied to that in the only way he could reply. He has promised to look into the matter very carefully and consult all those whom we are bound to consult. It would itself be a breach of faith if we—


Do I understand that the promise of the noble Duke implied that he will ask King Hussein for his consent to publish these Despatches?


The promise is that he will look into the matter very carefully and see if he can publish these Despatches. The noble Lord did not put his Motion in that way; he did not demand that we should lay the pledges on the Table of the House. That was a matter which has appeared in the course of the debate, and it would be extremely rash on the part of my noble friend to enter into any absolute pledge. I am certain that the noble and learned Lord would not do so himself if he were in the noble Duke's place.

With regard to the question of policy, it must be remembered that, though it is the policy of the late Government, once adopted it became the policy of this country. Let me say most emphatically that nothing can be worse than what I may call a zigzag administration—that a Government should come in and whether it is in home affairs or foreign affairs enter into certain commitments and adopt a certain course of policy, and then, when it goes before the electors and is defeated, that its successors should reverse it all and go the other way. To some extent at any rate you must accept the policy of your predecessors. It may be very difficult, and I can assure your Lordships that as I learn more and more in confidence of the position in which this country is I find it extremely difficult to carry out, in every respect, the policy of our predecessors. It cannot altogether be done, but to some extent we must pay regard to it, because the honour of this country and its consistency is engaged. We must do our best, and I can assure your Lordships that you may rely on my noble friend doing his utmost to fulfil all that he has said to-night. Whether it be in the matter of laying Papers or in trying to extricate ourselves from all the difficulties we have inherited, we hope we shall deserve the confidence of your Lordships' House.


My Lords, may I claim your indulgence in order to say two or three words before the discussion comes to an end? I should like to thank the noble Duke for the courteous manner in which he has assented to granting the Returns for which I ask. I should also like to explain in the form of an apology the somewhat positive inaccuracies embodied in my Question. I admit that the wording of the Question is not in accordance with facts: but the reason for it is this. I put the Question down at the time when the Election should have properly come to a conclusion. I never anticipated the new departure by which the period of the Election was to be extended.

Whilst I appreciate the courtesy with which the noble Duke has responded to my Question, I must quite frankly admit that the object I had in view has not in any way been met. I do not think the answer, from the point of view of the future government of Palestine, is of a satisfactory character. The noble Duke told us that the present constitution, which he admitted had failed, was a first instalment. I am glad that this first instalment has proved such a failure, because I am confident that the present system cannot last and the sooner this is made quite clear by the people of Palestine the better for this country and our interests in the East. I cannot accept the doctrine laid down by the noble Marquess the Deputy Leader of the House, that a Government is bound to carry out the policy of its predecessor.


I did not go quite so far as that. I said it must have regard to its predecessor's policy.


I would point out that the present Government has come into office, after an Election by a very considerable majority, because the electorate were dissatisfied with the policy of the late Government. The electors have undoubtedly entrusted the present Government with power with a view to the reversal of the most prominent questions of controversy that were raised at the last Election. I venture to say that this question of Palestine ranks very high among those questions of policy. The attitude of His Majesty's Government in regard to this very urgent question is one with which one cannot feel satisfied. I sincerely hope that they will now give it still further consideration, and that the result of that consideration will be a definite and precise modification of the present system. May I say one word more in regard to the point made by my noble friend Lord Lamington? I understand that it will not he in order for me to embody in my Motion the Report of the American Mission for which he asked, but I would suggest to the noble Duke that, if he sees no objection, it would be a very useful document to be added to those for which I have asked and which he has been good enough to consent to give.

On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.