HC Deb 16 February 1920 vol 125 cc489-90

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether, if British firms are compelled to pay to Austrians who have become Czecho-Slovaks pre-war debts due to them according to contract in sterling, His Majesty's Government can take any stops to secure equally favourable treatment of British firms to whom pre-war debts are due from Czecho-Slovaks, originally Austrians, especially in cases where such debts are stated in kronen, bearing in mind the depreciated Austrian currency and the fact that the provisions of the treaty with Austria as to debts do not apply to Czecho-Slovakia?


As Czecho-Slovaks were our allies before negotiations for peace were entered into with Austria, it was, I think, obviously not possible to impose on them a provision varying the terms of their contracts by requiring them to pay their debts at the pre-war rate of exchange. The position is that if under contracts with Czecho-Slovaks debts were payable in kroner, they will remain payable in kroner, and if they were payable in sterling they will remain payable in sterling, whether the debts were owing to Czecho-Slovakia or to this country. I fully appreciate that the position is one of great difficulty for British firms who are owed large amounts of money by persons carrying on business in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, but I am afraid that it is one which the Government cannot remedy.


asked the President of the Board of Trade whether, having regard to the impossibility of securing settlement of pre-war debts from Austrian nationals on the basis laid down in the treaty of peace with Austria, and the fact that British firms stand to lose consider able sums thereby, notwithstanding the proposed partial distribution of Austrian assets here to meet the claims of British creditors, His Majesty's Government can now see their way to adopt the suggestion that any surplus realised from Ger man property and assets, after liquidating British claims, should be utilised to meet unsatisfied British claims against Austrian nationals in respect of pre-war debts?


I would refer my hon. Friend to the answer which I gave on the 24th November to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry. Any surplus assets on German account will be available for payment of claims by British nationals in respect of enemy Government action affecting their property in Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey, but the Treaty does not enable such assets to be applied for the payment of private debts.