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Mcmahon Correspondence

Volume 344: debated on Wednesday 1 March 1939

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(by Private Notice) asked the Prime Minister when the White Paper containing the correspondence between Sir Henry McMahon and the Sheriff Hussein of Mecca in the year 1915 will be available for Members of the House.

I have been asked to reply. I am afraid that I cannot promise publication by any particular date, but I hope that it will be in the near future.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Prime Minister promised this White Paper to the House a fortnight ago, and can he say whether these documents are being now circulated among Members of the Palestine Conference?

The answer to the last part of the question is in the affirmative. The delay is due to the fact that certain of the Arab representatives made suggestions for alterations in the translation. These alterations in the translation are being considered, and as soon as they have been agreed upon the official text will be produced.

Is it not most improper that these State documents should be circulated among the members of the Conference from other countries while the Members of the House of Commons are being kept completely in the dark on the matter?

I quite appreciate the hon. Member's point. When we decided to publish them, it was anticipated that it would be possible to publish them at once, but in the interests of accuracy we wished to get the most correct texts, and that is the reason for the delay. We do not wish to deprive hon. Members of the opportunity of seeing copies as soon as possible.

Is it more dangerous to circulate the inaccurate text among Members of the House of Commons than among members of the Conference?

The fact is that, after the first official circulation had been made members attending the Conference discovered certain inaccuracies in the translation, and, when these were discovered it was decided to present to the House of Commons an accurate version.

These documents being State documents which have been acted upon, and presumably acted upon on the text circulated to the Arabs, may I ask whether we ought not to have both texts circulated so as to know exactly what has been done?

May I ask a question in order that there shall be no misunderstanding? Is it not the fact that His Majesty's Government alone are responsible for the translation of documents in the possession of His Majesty's Government?

May I press now for the circulation to the House of the documents that were circulated to the Palestine Conference?

I want to put to you, Sir, the propriety of this matter from the point of view of the House. I ask you, Is it a proper thing that there should be documents circulated among other people which affect the status of this House and our duties without our having copies of them, accurate or inaccurate?

If copies are to be circulated to Members of this House, obviously the sooner they can be circulated accurately the better.

May I ask for an answer to my question, which affects the whole matter as to what is to be circulated? We now gather that there are two separate texts. The text which has been the accepted text is the one upon which, presumably, action has been taken throughout these years. It is now said that these texts were wrong and are to be altered. I want to know whether we can have both the texts, the one on which policy has been formed hitherto, and also the correct text?

I think that the right hon. Gentleman may appreciate the point better if it is understood that the original action was taken upon Arabic texts, and when the English translation of the Arabic texts was examined certain of the delegates found that it was inaccurate. It is in the interests of accuracy that this should be put right. In reply to the right hon. Gentleman's previous question, I will certainly consider that with my right hon. Friend.

Do I understand that there has been no authorised translation of these Arabic texts into English?

The Arabic texts have been in our possession and we have made our own translation.

Is the right hon. Member trying to persuade the House that the Cabinet have taken action on Arabic texts? Surely the documents which we were promised are the documents which were before the Government and on which the Government have taken action? Those were the documents which the Prime Minister promised. Surely we should have these documents now, and if there are any errors in the translations they can be put right.

I have told the Leader of the Opposition that I will at once consider that point with the Prime Minister.

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise this matter at the earliest opportunity.