§ DIPLOMATIC AND CONSULAR SERVICES.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £168,460, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1924, for the Expenses in connection with His Majesty's Embassies, Missions, and Consular Establishments Abroad, and other Expenditure chargeable to the Consular Vote, including the transport and relief of refugees in the Near East, and the relief of distress in Japan.
§ Mr. J. HOPE SIMPSON
I rise to call attention to one of the items on which we are asked to vote money, namely, on page 12, the item LL, "refund to Indian Revenues in respect, of diplomatic and consular services in China, Persia, Arabia and Siam." As a matter of fact, this Supplementary Estimate is required in respect of the consular guards in Persia, and I desire for a few moments to draw attention to the history of the expenditure under this particular head. In 1900 Lord Curzon was Viceroy of India, and his policy was one of peaceful penetration in Persia. As the Committee may remember, he started the Quetta-Nushki railway, with the intention of extending it ultimately into Persia, and at the same time he extended these consular services in Persia to a large number of towns in the interior. At that time the arrangement was that the Indian Government was to pay £6,000 a year to the British Government in respect of the consular services. From 1900 to 1904–5 the British Government received every year from the Indian Government a certain amount of money in respect of these services. The arrangement also was that any expenditure over £6,000 should be divided in equal parts between the British Government and the Indian Government, and it is in respect of this excess that we are asked to vote this Supplementary Estimate to-night.
In the years up to 1909–10 we made no payments. In 1909–10 the first payment was something over £6,000. The amount increased very rapidly until 1913–14, by which time we were paying £96,800 as our share of the excess. After the War the amounts were still greater, and in respect of 1920–23 we paid £378,680, and we are now asked to vote another £150,000 in 156 respect of those three years, so that our share for the three years of the expenditure in excess of £6,000 is going to be £528,680. That is to say, that on those three years the Government of India has spent over £1,000,000 on the consular guards in Persia. In the present year, when the original Estimates came up, we voted £32,500 for this service, and we are asked now to vote another £75,000, making a total of £107,500, in respect of our share of the cost of consular guards in Persia. I think that this item requires a good deal of examination on the part of the Committee. What does all this mean? If you look at the Estimates for the year you will find provision for 11 consuls in Persia, but if you look up the "Statesmen's Year Book," you will find that we have consular officers not in 11 but in 20 places.
Are these guards supplied to each of the consular officers? What are they there for? Is it suggested that they are there to control the trade routes, or to protect the consuls? If they are there to control the trade routes, what right have we to go into an independent country and control the trade routes? If they are there to protect the consuls, is it necessary that we should have an expenditure of £350,000 a year for this purpose in Persia alone? I presume that these guards are confined to Persia, though I saw in to-day's "Times" that we have withdrawn guards from the Persian Gulf, and thereby gratified the Persian authorities. Does that include the guard at Muscat? Have we guards in Arabia? Is the whole of the expenditure confined to the Persian area? Some hon. Members know Persia and the Persian people. I believe that as I a rule the ordinary Persian—I am not now referring to the hill people—is not a combative person. In the north-west, in Luristan, doubtless there would be a necessity for guards if we had any consular officer in that area. As to Kurdistan, I cannot speak, but I do not think we have any consular officers there.
This railway, I understand, has been pressed on through the Baluchistan desert to a town in Persia, and there we have a consular office, and, doubtless, guards. What is the strength of those guards, and what is the necessity for them? Where are they? What control does the British Exchequer exercise over the policy which results in the spending of this money? It 157 is not enough to say that the Indian Government demanded it, and that we agreed to it. Is there no limit to the amount that we are supposed to find for the Indian Government, if there should enter into its head the idea of increasing the consular guards in Persia?
Lieut.-Colonel T. WILLIAMS
I wish to raise a question about the third of the sub-headings of this Vote. First, there is the question of the transport and relief of refugees from Asia Minor and Thrace, £58,000. I wish to know whether any inquiry is being made into this matter, because this Vote is really due to the deplorable policy of the Coalition Government. The expenditure ought never to have arisen, and it is necessary, even at this late date, that an inquiry should be held into the whole of the policy which has led to this expenditure, and to the very great loss of life which resulted from what I can only call a dishonest policy. The history of the matter is well known. We made definite promises to the Turks; the Prime Minister of that day made a definite promise to the Turks in January, 1918. After the Turks had surrendered, and we had them "down and out," we deliberately reversed our policy, and under the pressure of various interests, I suppose financial and otherwise, we loosed the Greeks into Asia Minor, with the result that we had three years of open war, massacres, barbarities in general, ending with the Greek debacle and the events which have led up to the necessity for this particular Vote.
The country has become involved in expenses of this sort because of the deliberate breaking of the word of the Government, and there should be an inquiry. It is not merely the fact that the country has been put to this expenditure. There are very much greater issues raised. There was a time when the word of this country had a great deal of respect all through Asia, but as a result of the policy which was pursued by the Coalition Government, our word now is absolutely in the mud all through Asia. Although the present Government is not responsible for the events which have led up to this Estimate, yet it would be very satisfactory if the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs would tell us that some inquiry was being held, so that responsibility could be placed in the proper quarters, so that we might satisfy ourselves, 158 and pave the way to a better feeling towards us in the East and the Near East.
The next sub-head to which I would refer is K7, "Wireless messages sent on behalf of Armenian Government." When one turns to the details on Page 12, one sees in the last sentence an implication that we are rather looking to the re-establishment of a stable Government of Armenia. When one considers the past history of this country in relation to the Armenians, I think I am justified in taking that as the implication. I protest against any expenditure in future on behalf of the Armenians, and I would like a promise from the Government that there is no intention of fostering, in any way, the idea of an independent Armenia, There is no doubt that the worst friends of the Armenians have been those who meant to be their best friends. The policy associated with the name of Mr. Gladstone has been deplorable in its results to everybody concerned in that part of the world, and to us.
The Armenians were very well treated for hundreds of years by the Turks, until Russia, in the first place, started using them as pawns for purely political purposes; they exploited them as Christians, solely as pawns. When conditions were produced that made massacres inevitable, people in this country, who were entirely ignorant of the Near East and its religions, jumped in and assumed that they were being massacred because they were Christians. It was nothing of the sort. They were massacred because they were the instigators to revolt against the Government of their country. The conditions that were produced were much like those that existed in Ireland recently. If you produce those conditions, it does not matter who the people are, you will have massacre. Therefore, I shall protest in every way against any action which, however well-meaning it may be, is designed in any way to set up an independent Armenia. From time to time one sees letters from Armenians—in this case it was a letter in the "Morning Post"—saying something to this effect: "For goodness sake leave us alone with the Turks. If you will only leave us alone with the Turks we can get on with them." I can assure hon. Members that that is 159 absolutely the truth. If you will stop interfering with the Armenian he can get on perfectly well with the Turk.
Another point I wish to raise refers to the consular guards, about whom we have heard something. I have spent a long time in Persia and was one of the officers, for a time, and had one of these consular guards. There is no doubt that there has been a very great waste of money in this matter, and I support everything that has been said by the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Hope Simpson). There is no doubt the origin of these guards—except in the Gulf where they have been for a long time—was due to the purely Imperialistic policy which we were pursuing at that time in Persia. The guards were absolutely no use. I had 10 men, a force obviously of no use as far as defence was concerned, but they were there simply to impress upon the Persians what a powerful nation we were. It was a race between ourselves and the Russians. The Russians had consular guards of about the same size, but we were always trying to get larger consular guards so as to make a greater impression upon the local people.
We have not been given any idea in this Vote as to where these guards are. In pre-War days they were scattered all over Persia from the North right away down to the South at places like Tabriz, Meshed, Shiraz and other towns. As regards the Gulf itself, the notice to which reference has been made only referred to a reduction of the guards there and did not state that they would be removed altogether. I do not suggest that the guards can be taken away altogether from the Gulf, because there we have responsibilities which date from about 300 years ago and the conditions are entirely different from the conditions inland. On the score of expense and on the score of our attitude towards the people of an independent country we should give up the guards entirely in inland Persia and retain only the very few who may be needed at the Gulf. As I say, the conditions at the Gulf are very different, and I would be prepared to support the Government in retaining them there for a certain time, but we should keep in mind the humiliating effect which the presence of these guards has on the people of an independent country. Many old customs have been kept up there, but from our own 160 point of view, it would be infinitely better if we got rid of every single man who is not absolutely essential at the Gulf, and for that reason I hope the Government will consider the avoidance of this unnecessary expenditure and will take steps to put us on better terms with Persians in the future.
§ Colonel Sir CHARLES YATE
I cannot agree with the last speaker in his proposal to reduce the consular guards in Persia. I quite agree with the hon. and gallant Member when he said that they should be retained at the Gulf. We have a telegraph line there and a great deal which requires protection. The hon. Member referred to Meshed. I have been Consul-General there and I know how necessary it is to have men there. There was a small guard at Meshed, and, I believe, at some other places, but we have not heard where they are stationed at present; and while we might seek for that information, I think it would be most inadvisable if the Government were to think of ceasing to share the expense of a few guards at all our different consulates in Persia, some of which are situated at very out-of-the-way places. I concur to a certain extent with the hon. and gallant Member's remarks about Armenia and the Armenians, and I hope matters in that part of the world are settling down. As regards massacres, I never heard that there was much to choose between the two sides in that matter, and during the War I think one side was about as bad as the other. Let us hope that these things are done with now, and that we may leave these peoples to rest as they are. I cannot agree that our prestige and our word are now "in the mud," to use the hon. and gallant Member's expression, in the East. That is a very sweeping statement, and when one considers what General Sir Charles Harington told us of the feeling of the Turks in Constantinople, I think it shows at once how much our work is looked up to.
§ Sir C. YATE
I think our word as a nation is looked up to in the East, and I cannot agree with the hon. and gallant Member. In fact, I do not think it is right that he should speak against his own countrymen in the East in that manner.
§ Sir C. YATE
I will not add anything further than to say that I do not know whether this item in the Vote, with regard to the guards in Persia, relates in any way to the removal of the regiment which was in Bushire. I think we ought to maintain our agreement with the Indian Government to share the cost of the Consulates in Persia, and that each Consul should be given a few guards to be with him and to go with him wherever he goes, and for this, season I do not oppose this item in the Vote.
§ Sir MALCOLM MACNAGHTEN
I wish to call the attention of the Committee to another item in this Vote relating to services arising out of the War in relieving prisoners of war in enemy countries. This item is for relief expenses incurred on behalf of British prisoners of war by the United States Minister at Brussels while in charge of British interests during the War. I suppose the prisoners of war were civilian and not military, and I suppose the expenses were incurred during the first period of the War, before the United States joined the Allies. I think I am right in saying this is the first occasion on which the House of Commons has been asked to vote any money in connection with these unfortunate persons, and the fact that their case is a very hard one cannot be disputed. Hon. Members who sit behind the Government profess to believe in equality, and I suppose the equality which they consider so admirable should be applied to civilian prisoners of war as well as to other people. I direct the Committee's attention to the hardship which British prisoners of war in Belgium have sustained when compared with civilian prisoners of war in Germany. At the outbreak of War there were British ships at Hamburg and Antwerp. The ships in Hamburg were illegally detained by the German Government, and in some cases, on 3rd August, 1914, after the ships had gone more than three miles from the German coast, German vessels of war forced them to return to Hamburg and there the British seamen were detained, and when War broke out they were subjected to the greatest hardships. For these men His Majesty's Government 162 have provided reasonable compensation. They are to get compensation, assessed by a sympathetic tribunal for all the wrong and injury they have suffered and for all the loss of property they have sustained. I think the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs will admit that, so far as the British seamen at Antwerp were concerned, no such compensation has been given, and, as far as I know, this Vote, which is only a comparatively small sum to refund expenses already incurred by the United States Minister, is the only sum which has ever been given, or is likely to be given, to the unfortunate people who were made prisoners in Belgium.
As between the prisoners in Belgium and those in Germany I submit the former have a much better claim. After all, people who went to Germany took the risk of the misfortunes which might befall them on going into such a country, but British subjects who went to Belgium were entitled to rely upon the guarantee of the neutrality of that country. British seamen who went to Antwerp were entitled to rely upon that neutrality to preserve them from outrage and injury, and the Under-Secretary will find that the Foreign Office in earlier days recognised the prior position in which the civilian prisoners of war in Belgium were placed, and actually—I will not say recognised their claims—but took notice of their claims as being claims which eventually should be, met, and met by the wrong-doer. I think in the Treaty of Versailles, which some people wish to have revised, I no provision is made for these people. Why no provision was made for them I do not know, but I have been told that the late President Wilson was so outraged by the invasion of Belgium that he would not countenance even the appearance of any semblance of legality being given to it, and would not countenance any compensation provisions for the wrongs done in Belgium being inserted in the Treaty. Be that as it may, I trust if the Versailles Treaty is to be revised, it will be revised in favour of British subjects who suffered in Belgium. Unless and until that happens I ask the Under-Secretary to consider whether something cannot be done to meet the claims of these people.
Many of them suffered in the most pitiable manner and stories have come to my notice of wrongs and miseries for 163 which no pecuniary compensation would be adequate but for which pecuniary compensation would be, as it always is, some salve to wounded feelings. The appearance of this Vote leads me to hope that if the British Government is going to refund to the United States Minister what he paid in relieving some of the distresses of these prisoners, they might go a step further and provide for the British civilian prisoner of war at Antwerp some compensation comparable to that received by his more fortunate—or more unfortunate, as hon. Members please—brother who was detained at Hamburg. I have spoken of seamen, because those cases are comparable. The cases of the seamen at Hamburg and Antwerp were similar. There were other people who were pursuing their peaceful avocations in Belgium when the German invasion came, and I venture to think that these people are entitled to the sympathetic consideration of His Majesty's Government. I would not be in order if I were to deal with the question of property in Belgium. That is a very hard case for which no provision has been made.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Captain EDEN
I would like to refer to the question of the consular guards in Persia. These guards can be maintained only for one of two reasons. They can be justified only because they are necessary for the safety of those whom they are there to protect. That is a subject on which it is difficult to decide without knowledge of conditions in Persia, and such knowledge it is difficult to secure. Should that not be the case—and I cannot help feeling that it is not the case—then these guards are required for another reason, and that is prestige. Here we enter upon a difficult and a somewhat contentious ground. I would ask the Committee to remember that the guards, which may seem to us, and to Europeans generally, to be very unnecessary, do in point of fact in a certain way convey a sense of power. It is even reasonable to believe that the withdrawal of these guards might on a certain kind of Persian mind create an impression of weakness on the part of the country which had withdrawn them. In view of that danger, and also of the unstable conditions in Persia and the danger that may come to Persia and British interests 164 in Persia from one of Persia's neighbours, it would, I think, be highly inadvisable to withdraw these guards, if they really serve, as I am confident they do, as an outward symbol of British power in Persia. From that point of view, they do mean something to the Oriental mind, and it would be unwise, and it might certainly be mischievous, to reduce these guards. One would like to know exactly in what districts these guards are employed and the real purpose for which they are used. If their withdrawal would in any way affect British prestige in Persia, which is none too high at the present time, it would be indeed unwise to risk endangering our prestige still further.
§ Mr. T. HENDERSON
I would like to refer to the question of the roubles which were said to be deposited in British care in Petrograd and for which we are now I asked to pay £21,000 as compensation. If the loss of the roubles has been proved, surely the proof must have been advanced with the help of some books in which financial statements bad been kept. I cannot understand, if it was possible to find proof from a book-keeping transaction, why the roubles themselves were not saved. When one thinks that there are some thousands of people in this country who cannot get what they are entitled to get from the Government, namely, losses through enemy action during the War, it is rather surprising to find that a sum of £21,000 is wanted by people whom it is very questionable, so far as this item is concerned, whether they ever existed or not. I want to know from the Under-Secretary who they were. Were they British workmen in Russia at the time, or British officials. I want to know also what is the kind of proof as to the ownership of the roubles. I want to know further from the Under-Secretary if he will be kind enough to inform us at what time in Russia the British authorities were interfered with by the Russian Government. At what time was it impossible to safeguard deposits made with the British authorities in Petrograd? If the Under-Secretary would be kind enough to give us that information, not only with regard to the time mentioned in this item, but as to the people who deposited the roubles and the reason for the failure to give satisfaction in the way of proof, I would be obliged to him.
§ Mr. RONALD McNEILL
I do not think that my hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Ponsonby) will have any difficulty in replying to the point just made, and I do not propose to say anything on that particular point. But I should like to say something on the question of the consular guards, on which I think there has been more criticism than on any other part of this Estimate. I cannot quite understand the point of view of my hon. Friend (Captain Eden), because at first I understood him to express agreement with the opinion expressed from the opposite side. But he went on to say, apparently with some local knowledge of the country, that the procedure followed here was amply justified. I cannot speak myself with any local knowledge of that part of the world, but I must say, from all the information I have had with regard to the conditions in Persia, that I cannot at all share the view of the hon. Member for Kennington (Lieut.-Colonel T. Williams). I thought he himself in one part of his speech gave a complete refutation of the criticism which he advanced in another. He said that the fact of having these guards at our consular ports might have, and I understood him to say did have in many cases, the effect of impressing the opinion of the people of that country. He went on to say, which is quite true, that there is a certain amount of competition between representatives of different Powers, between Russia and ourselves mainly, of a commercial character. It is, of course, immensely important for us that the openings for our trade in Persia should be maintained as far as possible, and that nothing that we can do should be left undone for reasonably encouraging these openings. Almost everyone knows with regard to the East, whether they have been there or not, that a certain display of strength and preparedness to defend one's own rights is practically essential in almost any part of the East where a Western nation desires to maintain itself. I should go further, and say with such knowledge as I have, that the guards, at any rate in a great many places, have a more real justification than that. They are required to secure the safety of our people in that country.
I am quite certain my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, if he gives the information at his disposal, can tell the Committee that our relations in Persia at 166 the present time are very delicate indeed, and that it would be very easy to carry out a policy in Persia which would destroy the connection, and prestige which we have had there in the past. I am sure he will also tell the Committee that we have in that country a representative in whom, as an adviser, the Government can put the most complete confidence. He is a wise and well-informed adviser who is very familiar with the people with whom he comes in contact, and I feel sure that, as long as the Government follow the advice they will get in that quarter, they will not do anything extravagant or unnecessary in the way of maintaining the guards. There is only one other matter on which I would like to say a word. I find that an hon. Gentleman belonging to the Labour party has taken a view, which is very novel in this House, and certainly very novel coming from such a quarter, with regard to the Armenians. I wish my hon. Friend the Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. O'Connor) had been in his place in the House, because he would probably have leaped to his feet with a hot and indignant rejoinder at the statement that the Armenians had had nothing to complain of about the Turks for hundreds of years and that the idea that they had suffered was a myth that ought to be put an end to at once. I have heard views of that kind expressed before, though not in this House, but I certainly have not heard them from Liberal or Labour Members, and it is very interesting to hear that such views are finding acceptance in very unexpected quarters. I did not intend to go into that matter and defend the more traditional view with regard to the sufferings of the Armenians; I leave it to hon. Members who can claim more than I can claim to defend what might be called the Gladstonian tradition. Whatever may be the history of the case, I do not think it is relevant to this particular Estimate. However you may press back into past history to account for various movements and so on, that is not very profitable when we are confronted with the fact that at a given date these unfortunate people were certainly subjected to very great suffering and cruelty, and that the British Government at that time thought that the least they could do under the circumstances was to try and minimise that suffering as much as possible 167 and to do anything they could to save these unfortunate people. That is really, I think, the only consideration before us at the present moment, and I think my hon. Friend will have no difficulty in getting the Committee to assent to that item.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Mr. Arthur Ponsonby)
I am grateful for the intervention of my right hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. R. McNeill), and, in some ways, I feel that it would be very much more appropriate if he were defending these Estimates than that I should be defending them, because we are very much embarrassed by the leavings of the feast that was prepared and cooked by the last Government, and we have to get those leavings out of the way before we can present our own banquet. But I think the Committee is rather apt to conclude that we are in favour of the policy represented in these Votes, when all that we are concerned with is that the House of Commons shall have full information before these Votes are passed. They are Estimates incurred by the policy of the previous Government. In some of the speeches that have been made on this particular Vote, an attempt has been made to lure me into questions of policy, which I shall very stoutly resist. I only intend to take up the points where I am called upon to make an explanation. The first point, which was touched on by a good many hon. Members, was the question of the expenses in respect of "Diplomatic and Consular Services in China, Persia, Arabia, and Siam," under the heading LL. The hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Simpson) really explained the case very clearly, but I do not think he quite explained sufficiently that the expense incurred covered not only the consular guards, but the actual consuls themselves. The system, which has been in practice now for some time, is that Persia is divided into, roughly speaking, two spheres. His Majesty's Government are responsible for the upkeep and appointment of 10 consuls, and the Indian Government of 12. There is consultation with regard to the appointment of these consuls, and the expenditure is met by each Government, and then 168 the accounts are compared, the total expenditure is added together, and each Government takes a half share.
§ Mr. PONSONBY
I think they are all British. This is, undoubtedly, as the hon. Member for Taunton and others have said, an extremely clumsy method of proceeding.
§ Mr. PONSONBY
It covers the salary of the consuls, as well as the consular guards. This method, as I say, is very clumsy. It means that the accounts are made up at the end of the year and that very often a long period intervenes. There is constant consultation between the Indian Government and His Majesty's Government, and the result is that His Majesty's Government have to pay, generally speaking, the adverse balance, because the consuls maintained by the Indian Government are more numerous and expensive. This method is wasteful and inconvenient, and it is for these reasons that the India Office and the Treasury have been in consultation as to whether some different method cannot be found for arranging for the payment of these consular officers and their guards. They think it would be better that each Government should be responsible for its particular set of consuls and should pay for them out of its own revenue, and by that means a considerable saving could be effected. The discussions are now going to be continued, and the Treasury, the Foreign Office, and the India Office will confer together with a view to adopting a better scheme, which should involve a saving and also would be more practical.
I do not think there is any question of the abolition of the consular guards. I think it has been rightly said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury that sometimes they are necessary actually for safety's sake, and no doubt a certain prestige is added to a European official by the presence of a guard. I have not been in Persia myself, but I know that in Turkey the presence of Kavasses round diplomatic or consular officials does certainly help them in the exercise of their responsibility, so that there is no question 169 of the abolition of these consular guards, and there is—and I hope it will work out into a practical plan—hope of getting a different method from the method at present followed, by which both Governments may effect some saving, and the consular officers and their guards may be appointed in another way. The hon. Member for Taunton asked whether there were consular guards at Muscat. No, there are consular guards in Arabia, at Bahrein and at Koweit, but not at Muscat. I cannot tell him exactly what is the strength of the consular guards for these districts. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kennington (Lieut.-Colonel Williams) raised several questions, and also touched on this particular question of the guards, on which he was able to give his own personal experience. He complained of waste of money, with which I am ready to agree, but I think he went rather too far when he said, in regard to our position in the East, that the British word is not looked up to any more in the East. No doubt the policy pursued in recent years has not been one which His Majesty's present advisers would have adopted, but I think, perhaps, that, with the advent of the present Government to power, the British word will rise in esteem.
I must not be drawn into the whole question of Armenia, because, really, the Vote covers only a very narrow point, with regard to the payment of the wireless messages which were sent for the Armenian Government at a time when they were in great distress and unable to communicate with their representatives abroad. It seems to me that the payments were fully justified, and I do not think I can profitably enter at present into the whole question of our policy with regard to the Armenians, nor into the first point which the hon. Member raised, with regard to the policy pursued in Asia Minor at the time when so many refugees had to leave Smyrna. That expenditure, which is on the Estimate, is £58,000. With regard to the refugees who had to hurry away from Smyrna, a large number were Maltese, and, if not born in Malta, were of Maltese origin. Some of them have been sent back to Smyrna, but life there is anything but secure, and they have still to be helped. There are a great many who have not yet been sent back. It is an obligation 170 which is the outcome of a policy which we on these benches think was disastrous, but, as I say, it is one of the obligations we are bound to undertake, however much we may disagree with the policy which made it necessary.
There were one or two other points raised, about which I should like to give all the information I can. The hon. Member for Londonderry (Sir M. Macnaghten) raised a point with regard to the relief of prisoners of war in enemy countries, for which there is an item of £9,800. This expenditure was incurred by neutral representatives in enemy countries during the War on behalf of British prisoners of war. Several advances were made by Votes of credit, but there was considerable delay in rendering accounts, especially those which came from the United States, and this is the balance that is over, and has to be met. The other question raised as to prisoners of war and the property of British subjects in foreign countries is far too large a question for me to embark upon, when I am only concerned with the very narrow point of giving information on the specific sums mentioned in the Estimate.
An hon. Friend behind me raised the question of the expenditure in Petrograd, and I should like to give him all the information I could get in regard to it. The sum in question is £21,000. It consists of only two claims, one of £1,000, which is an old claim that apparently, by a telegraphic error, was underestimated, and this £1,000 is to go towards making up the sum which was claimed. The other is a sum of £20,000, which it has taken some time to pay. The delay of the payment of these claims has been due to the late date at which they were presented, and to the difficulty, as, I think, my hon. Friend noticed, of obtaining satisfactory evidence of the deposit of the money at the Embassy. The only method of providing funds for the purpose of the British Commission at that time was by obtaining roubles from British subjects and others, who were willing to deposit them at the Embassy, on the undertaking that their sterling equivalent should be paid by bankers in our country. Previous payments on this account were made in 1919 and 1920 under this sub-head, "Losses in Petrograd." Owing to the looting of the Embassy House and the hurried departure of the 171 British representatives from Petrograd, it was impossible to bring away the necessary data for the preparation of accounts, receipts and expenditure, but, gradually, these have been very carefully gone into, and this claim has come forward, though late. We find that it is necessary to discharge it as an obligation which has got to be met.
§ Mr. PONSONBY
I think as far back as 1918. There has been considerable delay, because of the difficulty of getting the proper evidence.
§ Major Sir BERTRAM FALLE
It is very difficult for anyone who has not been in the East to understand the East at all. The hon. Gentleman opposite has had the advantage of having been there, and the hon. Member sitting behind him has an intimate knowledge. Such speeches are more interesting than the usual speeches we get from those benches. From my slight knowledge of the East—and I have passed some years of my life there—I think the Eastern peoples are very much like children. They are children of about the age of 14, and, so long as signs of authority are there, so long as the schoolmasters, prefects and older boys are about, these children behave themselves. They are not bad by nature, but immediately they are left without evidences of authority, they break loose, and, like all children, they are cruel. Children are cruel in most cases without knowledge that they are cruel, and if we excite a child of that age, that is to say, the grown man of the East, there is no brutality which he will not commit. The way, therefore, to keep him in order is not by too large a show of force, but sufficient force to let him know that the individual who is travelling must be respected.
I was very much interested to hear an hon. Member speak on the question of the Armenians. We are all interested in Armenia and in the sufferings of the Armenians. The right hon. Gentleman called them Christians. I would rather call them people professing the Christian religion. There is a vast difference between the two. [An HON. MEMBER: "It 172 is not confined to the East!"] It is not confined to the East. In my journey through life, which has already been long, I have not met many whom I could call Christians, although, of course, I have met a good many who profess it.
§ Sir B. FALLE
I do not think the side of the House makes much difference. There are Pharisees, but I am quite sure the hon. Gentlemen who interrupt me are not Pharisees; they only want a bit of fun. They are like the people of the East of whom I was speaking. They want a show of authority to keep them in order. The Armenians, as we all know, have been there for a good many hundreds of years. The Turks came and conquered, and took their land from them. The Turk does not pretend to be other than an uncivilised person. He is not too proud to fight, and is ready to fight anybody. He is a very excellent fighter, and he has some of the advantages, and all the disadvantages, of his religion. He does not drink—even as moderately as I do myself. He does not even smoke. He has one great advantage over a great many Christian people: he washes, and he does it daily! He washes with sand. I have tried sand, and I prefer water. He prays five times a day. Some of our Christians fast, but not like the Turk. He fasts from the sunrise to sunset, and if anyone has tried that, even in this climate, he knows what is means, and what it will mean in that climate.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
Perhaps the hon. and gallant Gentleman will keep to the question before us. He is going very wide of the mark.
§ Sir B. FALLE
The question is that of Armenia—that is what I was speaking about. Reference has been made to the Turk and the women and children he has massacred.
§ Mr. N. MACLEAN
Do I understand the hon. Gentleman opposite to suggest that fasting and praying has anything to do with the massacres in Armenia?
§ Sir B. FALLE
That is not a point of Order. It is only a waste of time. The 173 Under-Secretary referred to Smyrna. Perhaps he will allow me to say that in that case the Turks were driven back, and the Armenians were behind them. When the: Turk recovered his strength, and it must be considered he is a more or less barbarous individual, he visited it upon those people whom he looked upon as his subjects. I am not here to defend the Turk in the massacres he has perpetrated. But if he had wanted to massacre the Armenians he has had 500 years in which to do it, and he has not succeeded yet. The hon. Member who has now gone out to dinner referred to the refund of expenses incurred on behalf of the British prisoners of war in Belgium by the United States Minister—£8,800. I think that we ought to pay that money without the smallest hesitation, and we should couple with that our thanks to the United States Minister at Brussels, who, I have no doubt, judiciously and wisely spent the money on behalf of the British prisoners of war.
There is another item. I do not quite follow what is meant by K7 wireless messages sent on behalf of the Armenian Government. It sounds rather humourous. I suppose it was put in by the late Government. If they ever expect to receive any part of £2,660 then they are very great optimists. I should like to know something about that charge. Were these messages sent and the expense incurred at the request of His Majesty's Government, the Government in London, or the representative of the Government abroad? There was no mention by the hon. Gentleman of the number of telegrams sent.
§ Sir B. FALLE
Not even the number of words. I should like also to know on what subject these telegrams were sent, and to whom they were sent?
§ Mr. BECKER
There are several items I should like a further explanation about. Item K3 deals with the transport and relief of refugees from Asia Minor and Thrace, and refers to the balance of expenditure in respect of the chartering of vessels for the transport of refugees from Asia Minor and Thrace consequent upon the Greek evacuation of those districts in September, 1922. It is a re-vote of 174 £18,000. May I ask the hon. Gentleman in his reply whether they were Greek steamers that were chartered, and also how much money was paid for the charter of these ships? Is this £18,000 the last amount which we shall have to pay? Or is it a round figure, just an instalment, and shall we have further claims from Greece? The second part of the item deals with the maintenance (mainly in refugee camps in Malta) and transport expenses of British subjects left without resources owing to the destruction of Smyrna, and their inability to return thither, including the refunding expenditure incurred by the Malta Government—£40,000. Is this, as I said in respect of the £18,000, an instalment? Does it mean that it is simply to pay debts which are due; to pay money which must be paid? Or is this the final and absolute finish? It is not fair to a heavily-taxed people, as we are to-day, struggling under heavy burdens which we find it difficult to carry, to keep on bringing up these various amounts. Hon. Members opposite perhaps think that £40,000 and £18,000 is a little money. Personally I think it is a lot of money. We have got so accustomed to the recent times to talk in millions that to talk about £40,000 makes hon. Members laugh. I think it is a very serious matter.
§ Mr. BECKER
There is another figure of £10,000, Item K4—provision for the refund to the Admiralty of expenditure on foodstuffs and medical stores placed at the disposal of the Japanese authorities for the relief of native sufferers from the earthquake of 1st September, 1923. We must always remember the terrible disaster in Japan, and remember what we read in the papers of the gallant attempts of our naval men who happened to be there to relieve the suffering of the unfortunate Japanese people. But I have an idea that there may be more behind. £10,000 does not seem a great deal for stores. Tokio is a big place with millions of people in it. The Navy rushed up to the rescue, and goods, stores, blankets, clothes were given to the people. What they gave was doubtless a tribute by the British Navy to the naval powers of the Pacific. But is that all we can do? Is that all we did? I make bold to say that we could do—perhaps did do—infinitely 175 more, and this little matter is to keep the books right!
There is another curious thing in reference to the damage to the furniture of the diplomatic and consular offices in Tokio and Yokohama, which is put down at £10,000, and it is that the value of the supplies and goods which the Navy placed at the disposal of the Japanese authorities after the earthquake is put down at exactly £10,000. I would like to know if they sold the tables and chairs to buy these things for the inhabitants of Tokio and Yokohama. I cannot believe that £10,000 is going to pay for all the furniture and effects which were lost by these officers in those two places, because there is hardly a house left standing now in Tokio and Yokohama. Japan is a jumping-off place for our trade with China, and I would like to know if we only had £10,000 worth of furniture and effects there. I think all this tends to show that these Estimates are put down in round figures, and the Government are practically saying to us, "£10,000 is nothing, we do not mind.'
That amount cannot be exactly the value of all that furniture, and I would like to know whether the Government looked into this question of damage, or is this £10,000 simply an instalment? I have an idea that this is only an instalment, and that further sums will be asked for. Then there is an item of £2,660 for wireless messages sent on behalf of the Armenian Government, and it says:The claim has been noted for presentation to any future stable Government of Armenia.Now I think that is very uncharitable. I have listened to Socialist orators foaming at the mouth, and declaring that when they get into power they will not penalise any small people, and here, almost before the child is born, you are piling up against him a debt of this vast amount. This is a vast empire of which we are all proud, and are we going to stoop so low in the case of a new Government of this kind, smarting to govern a country under adverse conditions with no money to spend, as to come down upon them with our aeroplanes and tanks and demand this £2,660 before we shall allow them to proceed to govern Armenia? Is that playing the game? I should like to see an open-hearted, open-handed and 176 honest Government dealing with this question. I should think that the sentence I have just read might very well be struck out and the matter referred to the League of Nations.
Then there is another item of £21,000 for losses at Petrograd, the explanation being:Provision for meeting further claims by persons who have proved that they deposited roubles with the British authorities in Petrograd during the period for which no accounts are available.This is a most difficult thing to understand, and I cannot tell what it all means. Does it mean that if I can prove that I have deposited roubles with British authorities at Petrograd the Government will come forward and pay me an equivalent in pounds? At what rate of exchange will they pay? In case it happened to be 1,000,000 roubles, would the Government pay the rate of exchange of 1914 or the rate which is prevailing to-day? I do not know what the exchange value of roubles are to-day, but I should say that £21,000 would buy all the roubles in Russia. What does all this mean? You are simply giving a preference to the man who can prove that he has deposited roubles with the British authorities in Petrograd.
I do not know whether this proposal is connected with the settlement between this country and Russia which we are to expect shortly. Does it mean that you are going to pay back at the rate of exchange which prevailed when these people invested their roubles? I should like an answer to that question because it may very much concern hon. Members opposite when they go to Moscow, for they will have to get roubles in order to proceed there. I make bold to say that if you take the present exchange value of £21,000 worth of roubles there never was that number left with the British authorities in Petrograd. The Labour Government, which talks so much of what they are going to do with capital, are now sanctioning a payment of money which is very unfair to the taxpayer. Under the heading "OO" we have appropriations-in-aid forrepayment by the Malta Government of expenditure by the British Government on the relief of Maltese during the War. The amount repayable will be deducted from the sum payable to the Malta Government under sub-head K3.This is very difficult to understand. The Maltese Government is apparently going 177 to pay back money which they owe to us and yet we are charging ourselves £10,500 for it.
§ Mr. BECKER
I will do my best to keep in order. Obviously, this is put in in order to deceive us; otherwise, how do they make out that it comes to exactly £10,500? Would it not be more likely to come to some odd sum? Is this going to be the last of these things, or is the Maltese Government going to continue giving us money while we are charging ourselves with it? And where does this money go to?
§ Mr. BECKER
I do not know what kind of book-keeping it is, but the only really efficient Government book-keeping seems to me to be that of the people who collect the Income Tax. I am not so sure whether they are so accurate when they are paying money out.
§ Mr. BECKER
No, but here we are voting money done up in little parcels, and I think, on an occasion like this, we have a right to point out that certain of these things cannot be correct, because they come to exactly even figures. They must either be part payments or bits on the way. This is not a conclusive Estimate. Can we never end this war of payments?
§ Mr. BECKER
Is that necessary? We have the Capital Levy to come yet. What are you going to do with it if you have all these things to pay off when you get it? You will not be able to bring about a new heaven upon earth when you are giving money to all these funny little places.
§ Mr. BECKER
With regard to Subhead LL—Refund to Indian Revenues 178 in respect of Diplomatic and Consular Services in China, Persia, Arabia and Siam—I do not know whether I should be in order, on this Subhead, in raising the question of the cost of diplomatic services all over the world, or whether I must confine my observations to the four countries mentioned?
§ Mr. BECKER
This is what it says:In the original Estimate provision was made in the sum of £32,500 for payment to the Government of India in respect of expenditure on Indian troops employed as Consular Guards in Persia, which expenditure is shared equally by the British and Indian Governments. The payment required is now estimated at £150,000 for the period from Julv, 1920, to 31st March, 1923, and £75,000 in respect of the year 1923–24.Does that mean that we are to go on at this rate in the future, ad infinitum, doling out the taxpayers' money on these arid deserts? Is that necessary when we have such things as aeroplanes? What do these troops do in Persia? We might be informed why they are there. We have got beyond the militarist stage now, when we used to have sentries standing in front of black and white boxes.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member must not travel so wide. This is not a new service, and he must restrict himself to the increased expenditure shown on the Vote.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Mr. BECKER
I was asking why it is necessary to have Indian troops at all in Persia. I think there should be no Indian troops in Persia, and that the whole Vote is a gross extravagance and purely throwing money away. I imagine that these Indian troops that are in Persia are doing their duty as troops, and troops usually find themselves on sentry. No doubt, they are on guard outside consular offices in Persia, but are they there for the purpose of looking—
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member cannot discuss whether the troops should be there. He can only discuss the increased expenditure—not the original policy.
§ Mr. S. ROBERTS
On a point of Order. Is it not the fact that the original 179 Estimate was only for £32,000, while this Supplementary Estimate is for £192,500, and in the case of so large a discrepancy is not the Committee at liberty to range over the whole subject?
On that point of Order. One can appreciate the very careful scrutiny of the Vote, and I only want to draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that under the general flippancy of the hon. Member's remarks one or two things have been said about the Indian guards; and, as hon. Members on the other side of the Committee know perfectly well, while this matter may be treated with levity here, there may be considerable misapprehension if what is said is read in other places. I hope that hon. Gentlemen will recollect that under the levity of the situation there are serious possibilities.
§ Mr. JAMES HOPE
Has it not frequently been held that, when a revised Estimate is greatly in excess of the original Estimate, it can be discussed and treated as a new service?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
It is purely a matter of degree. When there is a considerable discrepancy more latitude is allowed than when the discrepancy is a small one.
§ Sir KINGSLEY WOOD
Is it not the fact that this Estimate is for five times the amount of the original Estimate, and, that being the case, is not the whole subject open to discussion?
§ Mr. BECKER
I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman thinks that I am in any way being flippant about these guards. I have no intention of being flippant. I quite realise that people's lives in the whole area may be dependent upon them, but I wish to find out how it is that the expenditure is so enormously increased that it is five times the original amount. I presume that means that there are five times as many soldiers as there were when the original Estimate was made, and I think I am entitled to ask why there are so many more. Have they really work to do, or are they there simply to overawe the natives? The number of soldiers must now be very large, because the original Estimate was for £32,500. I should like to know how many there are, how many officers there are, and how many non-commissioned officers 180 and rank and file. Do the rank and file outnumber the officers or do the officers outnumber the rank and file? Is the increase in expenditure due to better pay and conditions for the troops? Is it due to giving them more rations? Are they getting more ammunition? Is it that they are getting new uniforms? Are they providing bands or buying new rifles? Are they having artillery supplied to them? What is the reason for this tremendous expenditure? It cannot be explained away by saying that when the original Estimate was made no one had any idea that these men were going to become so expensive. Military units can estimate very closely what their expenditure is going to be and what their rations and their uniforms will cost, what is the wear and tear of their clothes and what their puttees and their trousers will cost, and their rifles and bayonets and entrenching tools. You can estimate quite safely what a given number of men are going to cost. When we find there is five times more money than was expected, can it mean that these men have been wiped out by some dread disease or that they have been treacherously attacked and have had to be replaced at a tremendous cost? It is £102,000. You could run a very nice strike on £192,000. Are there more troops there than when the original Estimate was made? If not, where has the money gone? If they are there, why are they there? Is it necessary to have so many there? What has happened in the meantime to make it necessary to increase the number of troops by five times? We know that when a military force is in a particular place, a few men may attract a horde of Persians or some wild tribes may come to attack the consular offices because there is a force, and it is natural when you see force to go and I smash it. We are keeping Indian troops in Persia and agitating the native mind, and as the years go by we find it necessary to spend more money on the business, so I presume we have to have more troops, and more troops will encourage more resistance; and if the expenditure keeps progressively rising it is safe to assume that the danger to the consular office is getting greater through attracting more enemies.
§ Mr. N. MACLEAN
On a point of Order. Do I understand the hon. Member is addressing us on the policy of general disarmament?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member must really keep to the subject matter of the Vote. He is travelling far too wide.
§ Mr. BECKER
I am trying very hard because the troops in Persia, which were estimated to cost £32,000, have cost £150,000. Have we more troops in Persia? Are they all Indian troops or is it because there are white officers attached to them that the expenditure has gone up?
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
On a point of Order. I should like to ask for information. Is this what they call Parliamentary procedure?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
If the hon. Member keeps on repeating his argument, I shall have to ask him to discontinue his speech.
§ Mr. BECKER
The next item is refund of balance of expenditure incurred on behalf of British prisoners of war in Turkey by the Netherlands Minister at Constantinople while in charge of British interests during the War. Why is that £1,000? Does it mean that he has sent in his expenditure account and says it is £1,000? Is no account kept? An ordinary business firm would give some idea of detail. Does he simply ask for £1,000 and we simply give him £1,000? Why is it a round figure like that? It suggests that he has had the biggest part of his expenses already paid and this is the balance. A balance is usually made of odd sums. It looks as if we do not think and simply give £1,000 to anyone who asks for it. "British prisoners of war in Belgium by the United States Minister at Constantinople." That is a figure not quite so round. It looks as if something has been done to check expenses. Did they pay the United States Minister in Brussels in francs or was it paid in dollars or in sterling? It is £8,800. Is it owing to the exchange that it got to that figure, or is 182 it because we paid him in dollars and lost money? The £200 looks to me as if it is a question of exchange. I should like to ask that in all Estimates this Government will set an example to previous Governments and have an absolutely new way of doing things. They should cut out Supplementary Estimates altogether. A Department ought to be able to say what it wants without having to keep coming to the House of Commons. I hope you will ration the Departments—give them so much money and that is all they are going to have. Surely the Estimates cannot be debated too long. We want to know what you are doing with other people's money. When we pay our taxes, as many of us do, we like to feel it is really going to do something which is going to help the other man. We want to help the country, to help the Empire and to help the under dog. We do not like to feel that our money is being frittered away in these sort of messages from Armenia, and in paying the expenses of other nationalities. The expenditure requires careful scrutiny. I think it is very unfair to blame everything on the last Government. If it is the only excuse that the present Government have for all their failings and faults to blame the last Government, let them say that for the future there shall be a different sort of Estimate, and that these round sums shall not everlastingly be served up. Let us get figures which will show to any ordinary man that care is being taken, and that the country's money is being looked after.
§ Mr. JAMES HOPE
I wish you comfort and success, Mr. Entwistle, in the Chair that has been worn hollow by my own anatomy, and I desire to assure you that in any slight embarrassment you may experience, even in this docile Parliament, you will find in me a most sympathetic critic. I want to put three questions to the Government. The first question is in relation to the item "OO," which is accounted for by the Foreign Office. This is a refund by the Malta Government of expenditure by the British Government. Presumably, the channel of communication between the British Government and the Malta Government is the Colonial Office, and I want to ask the Colonial Secretary if he is satisfied that this is a proper and sufficient refund of the liabilities which the Malta Government 183 have incurred owing to the aid given by the British Government to their own lawful subjects. With regard to the item K8, losses in Petrograd, I want to reinforce the point made by one of my hon. Friends as to the £21,000. Is this £21,000 calculated on the pre-War value of the rouble, or on the value of the rouble at the time of deposit, or on some average? It makes a very great difference to those persons who are affected. I suggest that the proper course was to calculate it on the value of the rouble at the time that it was deposited. Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs can reply on that point. I should also like to ask him a question in regard to the wireless messages sent on behalf of the Armenian Government. It is stated that, "this claim has been noted for presentation to any future stable Government of Armenia." May I take it that when a de facto Government takes possession, it is responsible for the acts of the previous Government? I take it that that is the principle on which His Majesty's Government are acting with regard to Russia, and that the Russian Government is prima facie responsible for the debts of the Czarist Government. I take it that the Turkish Government is now de facto in possession of Armenia. If that be so, is not the Turkish Government responsible for the £2,660? Is there anything in the Agreement concluded last year to debar our enforcing this claim upon the Turkish Government for this assumes that the Turkish Government is recognised as the de facto Government having authority in Armenia? I would ask the Under-Secretary whether that is so, whether the Foreign Office does recognise the Turkish Government as the de facto Government of Armenia, and whether they recognise that by virtue of any recent convention or by virtue of the facts of the case?
With respect to the question put by the right hon. Member regarding the Malta item, I would point out that when Smyrna was captured by the Turks it was necessary to evacuate a number of these unfortunate people, who were sent to Malta. We could not expect the Malta people to be responsible for them. The result has been that from that day to this we have looked after these people. Unfortunately, the state of 184 employment there prevented large numbers of them getting employment, and we still hold ourselves responsible for them. At the present time, negotiations are taking place with the Turkish Government with the object of getting these people back to their original homes in Smyrna. In the absence of that taking place, and pending some other arrangement, we are responsible. That is the object of the Estimate, and the reason why it comes under this Vote is because the Foreign Office is responsible for the Smyrna situation and the Colonial Office for the administration in Malta.
It is only fair to say that they have no obligations. Do not let us be under any misapprehension. We are responsible. If I were to attempt to hold the Malta Government responsible it would cause endless confusion. I do not hold the Malta Government responsible for anything. We are absolutely responsible, and in this Estimate we are discharging our responsibility.
§ Mr. HOPE
Has the right hon. Gentleman noticed that this is not a Vote, but an Appropriation-in-Aid, a payment from the Malta Government? Therefore, the Malta Government have acknowledged responsibility. What I ask is, whether the right hon. Gentleman is satisfied that they have fully discharged their responsibility.
§ Mr. PONSONBY
With regard to Armenia, I do not think I can enter into such a complicated question as that raised by the right hon. Gentleman. It would not be correct to say that Armenia is entirely under the Turkish Government. There is no doubt that part of Armenia comes under the Soviet Russian Government. The sum involved is of a perfectly simple character and was incurred by the Government of Armenia, as I have explained, when they could not communicate with their people in Paris. We decided to lend them facilities for wireless messages. On the other point, with regard to losses on roubles in Petrograd, the right hon. Gentleman is right in saying that the rate of exchange was at the date when the deposit was made. 185 Delay in the payment of these claims was partly due to the late date on which they were presented.
§ Mr. PONSONBY
There was also a difficulty in obtaining satisfactory data as to when the money was deposited in the Embassy.
§ Question put, and agreed to.