Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £150,000, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1925, for Grants in respect of Compensation for Suffering and Damage by Enemy Action."—[Note: £350,000 has been voted on account.]
§ Mr. HARMSWORTH
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £10.
This Debate has come up at last and I hope it will give an opportunity to hon. Members, not only to express their opinions, but, if necessary, to support their opinions in the Lobby. We have on previous occasion had Debates on compensation on the Adjournment but as every hon. Member knows Debates on the Adjournment are very unsatisfactory; few Members are present and if the answer is unsatisfactory there are no possible means by which the House itself can come to a decision. I know that this subject, which has been debated on various occasions, is not understood by a great many people and by a, still larger number is regarded as something which should have been settled long ago. I agree that on the First Reading of the case of these people you would come to that conclusion, but the more you go into it the more you must realise that they have an extraordinarily good case against the Government to-day. I should like to direct the mind of the Financial Secretary back to the period of the War. He will remember that in 1914 and 1915 started those raids on the East Coast and London which have resulted in the cases which we are debating to-night. When the raids started, we had no means of insurance. It was impossible for a person to pay the premium that was offered by any of the insurance companies. The Government came to the rescue and started its own insurance scheme. In 1915 they offered the very high premium of 3s. 6d. Many people were unable to pay the premium, and in many cases did not take up the insurance at all, and some of those who were able to take it up did not take it up in sufficient amount to cover the value of the property insured. Owing to agitation that premium was reduced to 1s. 6d. two years afterwards. 2554 The houses and the smacks of the fishermen were involved. Those who had their property demolished in the two years and did not get the insurance money are among the claimants whom we are considering to-night. I am sure it will be apparent to all hon. Members first, that there is the argument that the poorer people did not understand insurance and did not insure, and, again, a number of people could not afford to insure by paying the premium the Government asked.
When the War ended, there came an agitation from these people that something more should be done for them than they had under the insurance scheme. It was found that a number of people who were hurt through the War did not insure, and a deputation came to see the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd-George). I should like to read to the Committee an extract from the speech which the right hon. Gentleman made to the deputation when it came to see him. After hearing the case of the deputation he replied as follows:You represent towns which have sustained a great deal of damage through these insensate and barbarous raids. There is at the present moment, I understand, an insurance scheme on fairly generous and liberal terms for dealing with this very problem, but I am not sure that it is completely applicable to the facts of the case. First of all there is always the difficulty of making any scheme of this kind known to the smaller people and it is not always that they can take advantage of it. There are not merely tradesmen and factory owners and owners of big properties who are suffering, but there are poor people who have had their all destroyed in these air raids and it is just as important to them to have protection and they are just as much entitled to it as are these great factory owners and others living under more prosperous conditions. And I am not sure that it is a complete answer to say to these poor people, Well, you should have insured tinder some scheme,' because it takes a long time, as everybody who has been associated with insurance matters knows, to bring home the benefits of insurance to every class of society. It requires many agencies and an army of persuasive tongues for that purpose and we have no time for that sort of thing in this War, I think myself that, in principle, you certainly made out a case. The French Government have given a general pledge that the devastated areas will be restored. Well, the devastation there is on a more wholesale and a more terrible scale and the losses inflicted are terrible and the harden of the French Government will be all the 2555 greater. But whether greater or smaller the principle is exactly the same. We must protect our people in so far as we can against the consequence of these barbarities and we ought to do so without distinction of rich or poor. Therefore in principle I accept on behalf of the Government the case you have put before me.After this deputation nothing was done for a considerable length of time, until at last a Royal Commission was set up and in 1920 they went into the subject of the £5,000,000 that had been set aside to deal with the situation. When that £5,000,000 was set aside by the then Government for the Royal Commission to distribute, it was not intended that that amount should be a final settlement. It was merely intended that a certain sum of money should be set aside so that these people who, if they had waited till the money came from Germany, would be either dead or have passed through a great deal of suffering, should be kept quiet, and also to help them over these troublesome years till Germany paid. I am perfectly certain the Chairman of the Royal Commission did not have the idea in his head that this was to be the final settlement. If we examine for a moment how the Commission went to work, no democratic country in this age would agree that the Royal Commission did sit for a final settlement of these people's claims. When a decision was taken on any particular claim, no reason was ever given for it. These people could not state their case. It was entirely undemocratic, entirely arbitrary, and the only excuse for that Commission was that it was to distribute a temporary sum of money as best it could. If those circumstances are agreed upon, then the Commission did its best to remedy the circumstances. If, on the other hand, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury takes the view that it was on a final settlement against the Government that the Commission was set up, then all I can say is that those people have been treated in a totally arbitrary manner by a Commission which could not be described as democratic, and which in many cases turned down claims which no Government would ever dare to turn down. There has been a great deal of talk both by the spokesman on the Treasury Bench and others of the Treaty of Versailles. I should just like to read one paragraph out of that Treaty on this subject. It says: 2556The Allied and Associated Governments affirm, and Germany accepts, the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as the consequence of the War imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies.It is further stated:The Allied and Associated Governments require, and Germany undertakes that she will make compensation for all damage done to the civilian population of the Allied and Associated Powers and to their property during the period of the belligerency of each as an Allied or Associated Power against Germany by such aggression by land, by sea, and from the air," etc.It is perfectly obvious, as stated in the Treaty of Versailles, that people, not only here but in France as well, were to be compensated. In France it is recognised by the French Government and always was recognised that the devastated areas came first, and that if any money came from Germany it would go to the devastated areas. In this country the damage was not so great. I venture to think that, if troops had landed in this country and devastated a part of Kent and Sussex, the question would have been settled a very long time ago. It is just because the air raids and bombardments occurred in different parts of the country and at different times the Government have tried to pass it over. I understand that approximately something like 100,000 claims were recently sent in. If you take 100,000 claims you will probably find they affect half a million people. I think the Financial Secretary should very seriously consider this matter. The Department replies always in these terms, and I should like the Committee to listen to this letter, in order to realise that the Government have agreed that it is a final settlement which has been carried out by the Royal Commission. If it was not agreed that it should be final when the Commission was set up, then I want to know by whose authority this letter has been sent out. It is to this effect:I have to inform you that an order will be issued to you as being the amount recommended in your case by the Royal Commission as compensation for the suffering and damage inflicted on you by enemy action, and that this is a final settlement of your claim.I want to know by what authority that letter was sent out by a Department of the Board of Trade. It certainly has 2557 never received the sanction of this House of Commons. It has been sent out since the Royal Commission ceased to sit. I hope the Financial Secretary will tell us on what authority it is announced that this is a final settlement, thus giving the claimants no alternative, and no hope that, in case any money is forthcoming from Germany, they will be allowed to share in it. Their case is, in fact, entirely dismissed.
§ Mr. HARMSWORTH
I venture to suggest that in many of the cases which have been turned down there is really no ground for the assertion that it is a final settlement of the claim, and we maintain that when money is forthcoming from Germany, if it ever is, then more should be distributed among these claimants. The taxpayer, we are told, must come first, but many of these people will have lost, not only as taxpayers, but in other respects, owing to the general panic caused by the War. There is a controversy in some parts of the House as to whether Germany should pay any war indemnity, but I have never heard a single hon. Member declare that Germany should not pay for the wanton damage she did in the Allied countries. Whether the Government agree or not that Germany should pay an indemnity, and whether they think it would help trade or not that she should do so, I am convinced no hon. Member will get up and suggest here that Germany should not pay for the damage she inflicted not only on the militant side and in various areas in France, but on the civilian population in this country also. If it is to be laid down she is not to pay for the damage inflicted by air raids or bombardments, then when we get another war, be it big or small, it will be laid down that under the precedent now set any Power can do any damage it likes to civilian populations and will not be called upon to pay compensation for it. Germany surely should be made to pay for the damage she did in the Allied countries. That was not definitely fixed in the Peace Treaty, but it was mentioned. I think a Committee ought to have been set up to go into this 2558 question. I hope when the Financial Secretary replies he will give us something for these people. I do not want to place the Government in an unpleasant position, but I do want them to do something for these people, so that justice may be done.
Of course, I may be told that the Exchequer is not prepared to make any further grant. If it is not, I must accept that fact, but I am sure that the money was acceped by the claimants on account, and they understood that if Germany paid anything under the Dawes scheme, then more money would be allocated to them. If the hon. Gentleman will not agree to that, will he agree to set up a Parliamentary inquiry to go into the whole question? There has so far been no inquiry into it. The Royal Commission was really appointed to allocate the £5,000,000, and it got rid of that money, but there has been no Committee to go into all the question whether these people should have further money or not. I believe these people would accept the findings of such a Committee. This is more than a party question. The Government is a minority Government, and Members of all parties are interested in this matter. It is a question, therefore, which could be left to an open vote of the Committee to decide whether there shall be an inquiry into this matter, and whether any further money shall be allocated to these people. The case is perfectly clear. Even to-day there are people in different parts of the country who are still living in absolute poverty because of the damage they suffered during the War. You have at the moment in some coast towns two classes of the population: one class came back after the War and have been making money ever since. They are a flourishing class. But the other part of the population, which stuck to the towns throughout the War, now find themselves hopelessly insolvent, and will probably never be able to get on their feet again. I ask the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, on all grounds, on compassionate as well as on moral grounds, to further consider this matter and enable us to tell these people that they are going to have justice done them, and that an inquiry is to be held into their case. Unless that is done I am afraid it will leave in their minds a feeling that they have been forsaken by their own 2559 Government. I appeal to the hon. Gentleman with confidence to approach this matter with fairness and justice, and from an entirely impartial point of view. Let him give these people some hope that in the future their case will be reconsidered.
§ Mr. SEXTON
I want to be allowed to make a personal explanation on this subject. It is true that at the beginning I did express my sympathy with this movement, but I never gave my consent to my name being attached to the circular which has been issued.
§ Mr. HARMSWORTH
May I say in reference to that that the hon. Member told me ho felt great interest in this matter, and that I could use his name in any way I thought fit.
§ Mr. SEXTON
Well, I want to dissociate myself from that circular. I am a supporter of the Government, although I am not enamoured of everything that they do. I sympathise with these people, no doubt, but I distinctly refuse to allow my name to be used in this connection.
§ Mr. KEENS
It was my privilege recently to call the attention of Parliament to the fact that another group of equally deserving people are in a condition of absolute destitution. I refer to our nationals in Turkey. On the 10th April I put a question to the Prime Minister on the matter. The position of these people is different from that of those whose cases have been brought forward by the hon. Member for Thanet (Mr. Harmsworth). I wish to apologise to him for interrupting his speech, but while those whom he specially represents have received some money which is said to be in final settlement of their claims—whether that be so or not I cannot say—these unfortunate claimants of whom I am speaking are told that the money which has been handed to them represents simply repayable advances.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am afraid that the hon. and gallant Member is quite out of order in raising the question of the British nationals in Turkey on this Vote, which has only regard to damage done-by the enemy in this country.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I understand that this Vote is applicable to British nationals only and not to Turkish nationals.
§ Sir GERALD HOHLER
I believe the sum of £5,000,000 which was dealt with by the Royal Commission was intended to cover damage of every kind suffered through enemy action. It was to cover cases of personal injury, wherever they occurred, and I have in mind a case of a man who was injured by the Russians while confined in one of their prisons, and he has complained of the smallness of the amount he got awarded him out of this fund. I think, therefore, that in this particular distribution claims of every kind for damage from enemy action, wherever they arose, were to be covered so far as the £5,000,000 would go.
§ Mr. KEENS
May I read the answer which the Prime Minister gave me on the 31st March of this year?—In respect of many of these claims repayable advances have been or will shortly be made out of the fund of 5.000,000 provided by the British Treasury, which is being distributed in accordance with the recommendations of the Royal Commission on suffering and damage by enemy action."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 31st March, 1924; cols. 1805–6, Vol. 171.]
In view of what has been said and in view of the information which I have now obtained, I think it would not be wise to restrict the Debate within the limits which I previously suggested, and accordingly the hon. Member may proceed.
§ Mr. KEENS
The hon. Member for Thanet (Mr. Harmsworth) called attention to claims of a certain class which had been refused on account of non-insurance, but I wonder what the Committee will think of the decision of the same Commission in respect of a claim by a British citizen living in Constantinople for many thousands of pounds for the loss of a steamer by enemy action, which claim has been refused on the ground that the 2561 British citizen in question should have insured the steamer, although at the time of the occurrence it was impossible for any British national in Turkey to communicate with this country for any purpose whatever. In fact, letters sent by this particular firm were delivered in London six years afterwards. It was utterly impossible to do anything to insure the vessel. Not only is there the loss which these unfortunates have suffered, but we have actually reached the position that the Treasury or some other authority is endeavouring to collect from them their fares on the steamer on which they had to be taken away from Constantinople. It is suggested that, at any rate, they may be allowed off payment for their food, and it is said that where it was found necessary a warship was sent to take some of them off, and I am not aware that any attempt has been made to recover their fares in respect of that passage, but in regard to others, in spite of not paying the claims of these poor individuals who were cleared out of Constantinople, an attempt is still being made to collect from them the amount of passages on the "Empress of India." Well may some almost frantic individual among them write as follows:I expert it is quite hopeless claiming the fares of the refugees on the Empress of India.' back from the Foreign Office, but if anything is being organised Jet me know. I am quite willing to join in a procession to Downing Street with banner, etc. You must shoat and bully to get justice out of the British Government.I hope that is not true, but it is a serious thing that any of our nationals should be brought to write anything such as that. These people have been deprived of all their possessions, and apart from any repayable advances which may have, been made, they have an additional claim which arises in these circumstances. I am aware that in the answer given me by the Prime Minister he denies that any claim of Turkey against this country in respect of two warships was ever admitted by His Majesty's Government, but how that comes to be stated I do not know in view of the terms of the Treaty. There was a time between let August, 1914, and 1st November, during which we were at war with Germany, but were not at war with Turkey, and on the opening day of the war with Germany there were in this country two warships under construction for the Turkish Government. In connec- 2562 tion with these warships a sum of money had been deposited in this country, and there was also due a sum of money in respect of Treasury Bills. We requisitioned the ships and declined to repay Turkey the £7,000,000 which they had paid. Probably we did so quite properly. We may have, had information that Turkey was mobilising, and decided not to give, them any more money, but the net result was that the Turks began to "take it out "of our nationals during that period. They made requisitions on our nationals for goods, for grain, for gold, they denuded engineering works, took everything they possibly could and requested our nationals to look to the British Government for payment.
Up to the present these people have not been compensated in any way whatever for what they suffered. Under the Treaty of Lausanne a sum of £5,000,000 is in the hands of the British Government and is earning interest, and in this sum all Allied nationals are entitled to share pro rata. We do not know the amount of the claims, but I understand they exceed that sum by a very large amount. It seems to me that we have a definite obligation, apart from anything else, to our nationals in Turkey who were put into the position I have described because of the action of our Government during that three months. They are certainly entitled to set their claims against the sum of money which we hold in our hands as the price of the two warships. We are told that this money was not really Turkey's, but was raised by voluntary subscription in Turkey. However it was raised, it was deposited by the Turkish Government in this country as payment for these ships. I am aware that a large proportion of it was raised, by methods known to the Oriental, out of the British community in the first Instance. Certain methods were employed by which sums of money had to be paid and were in fact paid by the British community to the Turkish Government for the purchase of these warships.
Apparently it is contended that under the Treaty this particular matter does not arise. How that can be, having regard to the terms of the Treaty, I do not know. It seems to be as clear as possible by the Treaty of Lausanne page 832, that the sums of money which were deposited in Vienna to cover the first issue of Turkish paper currency were to be trans- 2563 ferred to the Allies and were to be available for the nationals of all the Allies who suffered damage in Turkey, but over and beyond the claims of all these nationals comes the special claim of our own people for damage done by requisition of the enemy, that requisition being carried out on the distinct understanding that it was made because Great Britain had taken Turkish property and were not paying for it. That there should be any dispute on the point seems to be impossible after reading Articles 57 and 58 of the draft Treaty. To sum up the position, I support strongly the claim of the hon. Member for Thanet that these questions should be dealt with and the facts ascertained. I agree with him that the Commission has not attempted to do anything more than pursue a very rough and ready method of assessing damage, and by the method of the assessment. of these damages grave injustice has been done—as in the case I have quoted of an individual whose claim was rejected on grounds of non-insurance, though it was physically impossible for him to communicate with this country for insurance purposes. A large number of other cases in which similar errors appear to have been made have been brought to notice.
The time has arrived when there should be some further inquiry into this matter, and although it may cost the Treasury some more money to do justice, I think it is the desire of everybody in this country that we should do justice to our own nationals. When one attempts to argue the claims of British nationals in any specific country, one is invariably told that the condition of British nationals in other countries is as bad or worse. That does not appear to be any answer at all. These nationals of ours are in foreign countries for perfectly legitimate purposes, chiefly purposes of commerce, and their services to this country have been very great indeed. As a matter of fact, our overseas trade is largely in their hands, and we are very largely dependent upon these particular people in Turkey if we wish to resume trading relations with Turkey 'to any extent. Many of these firms have been there for a long time, they are trusted by the Turks, and anything that is to be done to re-open trade will have to be 2564 done through them. We know there are great difficulties in trading in this part of the world, but these people are willing to take the risks. They cannot do so to-day, because for 10 years they have been deprived of goods, many of them have been living in this country in destitution, and some of them have been trying to earn small incomes out there and to keep their wives and families here. If we are to reopen trade with Turkey we shall have to see that justice is done to these people and that they are put into a position to resume trade operations. I have endeavoured to place before the Committee the position of these unfortunate individuals, which is different from the case of our nationals in other countries, and it is perfectly obvious that we must make a serious attempt in some way or other to settle their legitimate grievances. Otherwise it will be a sorry day for this country if, in the language of the letter which I have just read, it is assumed that bare justice cannot be obtained from the British Government.
§ Lord APSLEY
I will not follow the hon. Member who has just sat down into the no doubt genuine grievances of Turkish nationals
§ Lord APSLEY
I beg the hon. Member's pardon. I wish to refer particularly to this question as it affects English people in England, and I wish to dwell on the cases of a particular class, namely, merchant seamen. This class is affected by the question of reparation claims more than any other, and it is the class to whom we owe our very existence as a nation. It is a class which is probably less able to express its grievances than any other in this country. I calculated that in my own constituency at the last election over 9,000 merchant seamen were unable to vote. In addition, the merchant seaman is peculiarly handicapped in those methods of pen-and-ink warfare which I am afraid are necessary to anybody who wishes to get anything out of the Government. For obvious reasons they are constantly changing their abode, they are constantly at sea and, generally speaking, in a matter of this kind they are handicapped in comparison with those 2565 who have a more stable existence. I have, during the last few days, received particulars of over 300 cases of real hardship to men who were torpedoed or who suffered otherwise from enemy action during the War and who have put in claims. Time would not permit me to read very many of them. It is true that there are some that are not quite genuine, as, naturally, in a case of this sort, there are bound to be some bad cases as well as good, but the majority are perfectly genuine cases, and there are some cases of very severe hardship, indeed, that would make most pathetic reading, and which, in hands more able than my own, if they were read, for instance, by the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), would, I believe, reduce this Committee to tears. I will take one or two of them, which I beg leave to quote, because they are fair average cases of what has been going on. Here is an ordinary letter from an ordinary seaman, who was torpedoed on his ship, and he says:Having forwarded a letter to the Commissioners stating that I was serving on board the s.s. "Harpelus" as a fireman. … at the time she was sunk, to all and sundry inquiries I make, I receive a postcard saying, We have received your communication of such and such a date, and beg to say it will have attention.'This man sent in his claim in time, and he got this ordinary official reply time after time, and at last, after he had sent it in four times, he was told that his claim was belated. There is another case which I will quote, because it is one of very real hardship. It is that of a man who was torpedoed and who lost his leg from the explosion He writes:My claim was for lose of left leg through being torpedoed, loss of employment through being disabled, total inability to support myself, wife and two children, also loss of effects and personal property.He claimed for £849, and sent in his claim in 1918. He was paid £30 in August and 35 in February, 1923, and they gave him no further information about his claim at all. The last letter that I will read is that of a widow, aged 66, who lost three sons in the mercantile marine. They were all torpedoed and lost their lives. She had no other source of income at all, and, the sons having been in the mercantile marine and not in the Navy or Army, she was unable to get any pension at all, 2566 but she was allowed from the Reparation Claims Department £100 for the loss of her three sons in the war.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. A. V. Alexander)
Will the Noble Lord give me the date on which the first application to which he referred was submitted?
§ Lord APSLEY
I find that I have not the date in this letter, but I will be pleased to get the information for the hon. Member. As I say, I have about 300 cases in hand, and I will have great pleasure in handing them over to the Board of Trade for consideration. I have no wish to attack the members of the Reparation Department themselves, especially as I know that they cannot reply in this House. I have no doubt that they are gentlemen who have done their work very efficiently, with great regularity and as best they could, and I do not attack them, but I wish to attack the whole system itself. It was started by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) at the time when he went round the country telling us that he was going to hang the Kaiser and make Germany pay, and that led every man and woman who had claims of this nature to believe that they were going to get something like what they had lost in return. After that, it was put into the hands of a Royal Commission, and there it remained for some time, and now I am going to ask the Government to give us a statement telling us what they are going to do now that they are free to act in this matter.
After all, something must be done. Whenever I or other hon. Members have raised this question, either at question time, or on the Motion for the Adjournment, we have received answers from the President of the Board of Trade, or from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, saying, first, that the matter was under consideration, then, that it was in the hands of the Royal Commission, now, that there is not enough money to go round, and that they have made a final award of £5,000,000 for the claims that were first sent in and £300,000 for belated claims, and that beyond that they are unable to say anything more. The mere fact that a claim is belated does not mean that it is not just, and I maintain that it is impossible for any Government Department, however excellent it may be, to go 2567 into these claims themselves, one by one, on their merits. If I may make a suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman, it is that, if he wants to get these matters properly gone into in every locality, boards should be set up, consisting of men who really can judge these claims. I would suggest a member nominated by the employers, another member nominated by the unions, a Government official, and a country magistrate or some other entirely impartial authority to take the chair. I believe that if the whole thing is opened again and these claims are judged one by one, at last these men will get some sort of satisfaction.
I do not wish to raise this question in any sense of hostility against the Government. I can almost hear the right hon. Gentleman getting up and saying that it is not his responsibility at all, and that the Governments before his were just as guilty. I have no doubt that that may be the case, but the whole thing was put into the hands of the Royal Commission, and that is the only reply we have been able to get. Now, however, something must be done, and I am going to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will give us an answer, saying that he is going to reopen the whole of this question and go into the whole of the payments again, to have it clone properly by boards, and that he is going to ask the Treasury, if necessary, to vote more money to meet these claims. I am sure he will find that they will require a great deal more money, and I cannot accept the answer that there is not enough money. After all, the Minister of Health and the Minister of Labour have both been playing ducks and drakes with the taxpayers' money for other matters, and they have had very little difficulty in getting doles from the Treasury, but this is a debt of honour which must be paid first, and they should ask the Treasury to guarantee that it will pay these claims fully and fairly.
If the right hon. Gentleman is not prepared to do that, and if he cannot reopen the question, or have a Parliamentary inquiry into it first, then I will ask him to get up—only I hope he will not—and say straight away, now in this House, so that every man who has a claim of this sort may know where he stands, "We are going to give no more money, £300,000 is all that the belated claims or 2568 further claims will get, and it is not going to be compensation at all, but we give you a solatium of about £5 a head." If we cannot get a guarantee of the nature I have indicated, I regret that my hon. Friend and I will have to take this to a Division and leave it to the Committee to decide. I hope the right hon. Gentleman, however, will dissociate himself from this policy of delay and dilly-dally which has been going on for so long, and will give us the Government's view as to what ought to be done, and what is going to be done, and let these men know clearly what their position is.
§ Mr. DUNCAN MILLAR
The speeches which have been delivered indicate how widely spread is this grievance which we are discussing, and how many different classes in the community it touches. I venture, briefly, to plead on behalf of another section of the community, namely, the fishermen, who, during the War, suffered very severely, and to claim that they deserve special consideration also. I should like to emphasise what was said by the hon. Member for Thanet (Mr. Harmsworth), that we are really faced here with a very widespread dissatisfaction and irritation and sense of injustice all over the country in respect of the manner in which these claims have been dealt with, and I agree with him that what is more important than anything else is that we should be able to satisfy all the claimants that they have had really fair consideration of the cases they have put forward. Up to this point, they certainly have not received the consideration which they deserve. With regard to the procedure taken before the Royal Commission was appointed, I suggest that it had the effect of misleading a very large number of people with regard to the possibilities of having their claims fully recognised and considered.
Speaking for my own division, and for my own constituents who did put in claims, they were certainly under the impression, and I think they were justified in being under the impression, that this was a matter in which they were going to have at least a fair opportunity of arguing their claims, of knowing the grounds on which they were to be considered or disallowed, and of having the fullest opportunity of investigation. I cannot imagine a tribunal which was less likely to satisfy public opinion than the 2569 tribunal which was set up. There was nothing in its procedure or in the methods which it adopted to secure the confidence of the claimants. Quite the reverse. As a result, we have throughout the country a growing sense of dissatisfaction, which I think entitles us, not in any sense as bringing undue pressure upon this particular Government, because all parties are united in making this plea, to demand that something should be done at this stage, when the Royal Commission has reported, and when the belated claims are now limited to a fund of £300,000, which is quite insufficient.
With regard to the proposals which have been made, I would strongly urge that we should, in the first place, have some form of inquiry which will satisfy all the claimants who are still living under that intense sense of injustice, as we know from almost daily communications from them. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will really give consideration to this point, that there should be set up an inquiry, a Parliamentary inquiry if that be preferred, which would have the opportunity of investigating the whole position in relation to the question of reparation, in connection with the actual payments which have been made to claimants who have come forward, and in connection with the outstanding claims. It is really out of the question for us to get the reply that there is no fund available out of which these claims could be met. Let me remind the Committee that the Government made a profit of something like £11,000,000 on their air raid insurance scheme, money which might very well be set aside to deal with the claims of those who suffered damage owing to enemy action, and while we are quite willing to admit that the right hon. Gentleman has not got to carry the whole responsibility for this Government in connection with this matter, what we say is that he is now faced with the moment when something must be done if there is to be justice and satisfaction given to these claimants throughout the country.
I hope we shall not get the answer we have had year after year. This matter has been raised in the House on a great many occasions, and some of us who are speaking on this subject to-night feel so strongly on it, knowing as we do the strong feeling of our constituents, that we are prepared to go very far in pressing on 2570 the Government the need for inquiry. In this matter it will not be sufficient for the hon. Gentleman in his reply simply to state, as has been, previously done, that the matter has been considered by the Royal Commission, that an additional sum has been awarded, and that is the end of the matter. So far as we are concerned, that is not going to be the end of the matter. We are determined that there is to be a final and a successful effort made to secure justice for these claimants. In the position he is, in a minority Government, the hon. Gentleman ought to give effect to the wishes of the Committee on a question of this kind. He ought to give effect to the views expressed on all sides that, on a matter of pure justice, we should see that British subjects are not denied the measure of justice which, under any other tribunal, they would have been afforded in putting forward their claim, and having it thoroughly investigated. Many of my constituents have come to me and stated that they cannot make head or tail of the communications they have received. There has been no information and no sympathy, which, in my judgment, has been one of the most unfortunate features. I went fully into individual hard cases. I can quote as many and as hard cases as the Noble Lord has quoted, and I am sure many hon. Members could do the same. We want seriously to press on the 'hon. Gentleman that we mean business on this occasion, and want a reply that will satisfy us.
§ Mr. STURROCK
If there be one aspect of this matter which deserves consideration, it is the manner in which claims submitted for reparations have been dealt with by the Departments concerned. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. Millar) has said, they have certainly not been treated with any degree of sympathy or consideration whatsoever. I speak also for a class of men who went to sea, and suffered from enemy action. Those men put in claims as soon as they knew they were entitled to do so, and they have been fighting for years to get what is clearly their due. Those men did not only go to sea of their own free will, but, at the time they were doing so, they knew they were taking risks, and were encouraged by the Government of the day to keep going to sea to get sup- 2571 plies of fish to help the food supplies of the country. Undoubtedly, they took risks, and when their vessel is lost, and all their savings are gone, they are told, "Why did you not insure against the risks you took"? They did insure, but they discovered at a time of rapidly rising prices that they could never replace the boat with the insurance money they drew. If any one suggests that the owner of a small fishing craft on the East Coast was able to put up the premium on the sort of insurance which would have been necessary to secure for them a boat equal to the one sunk by enemy action, then, obviously, he knows nothing about the subject whatsoever. It is more than time that the Government informed the Committee, and the House in general, of its intention to do something tangible and rapidly. It is no good, as my hon. Friend has just said, saying to us that they will consider the matter further, and that they have no money with which to deal with these claims. It is an obligation, not merely on this Government, but a moral obligation and a debt of honour resting upon every Member of this House to see that justice is done to those men, who saw that justice was done to their country in the time of need.
§ Viscount WOLMER
If I intervene in this Debate, it is only because the knowledge of the duties that were laid upon me at the Board of Trade in regard to this matter make me feel it my duty to say a word to-night. I have listened to the speeches of the two hon. Members who have, to a certain extent, criticised the action, and especially, I think, what they call the lack of sympathy of the Royal Commission whose Report we are now considering. I do not desire at the moment to enter into the fundamental question of the treatment that these unfortunate British nationals and sufferers received as the result of the policy adopted by the Government of the day in 1920, but I should like to say a word about the work of Lord Sumner and the Royal Commission. I want hon. Members to understand the position in which that Royal Commission was placed. They were appointed, in the first place, several years after the acts of damage and injury were committed. In the second place, they had to distribute a limited sum among a wholly unknown number of per- 2572 sons, and it soon proved, of course, that that limited sum was a totally inadequate sum, and really the task with which that Commission was faced was a totally impossible task. In any case, I would venture to suggest that no criticism ought to be made in this House against the members of the Royal Commission, because their first Report was accepted by the late Government, and their second Report has been accepted by the present Government. Therefore, it is to those quarters that that criticism should be addressed.
We have heard criticism that the Royal Commission did not find it possible to hear individual claims, and to deal with individual plans in the sort of way, I suppose, claims for civil damage are dealt with by the Law Courts; and we have also heard the complaint—and a very understandable complaint it is—about the great delay that has taken place. But, really, those two complaints, as far as they go, answer each other. The Royal Commission had to deal with—if my memory serves me aright—some 40,000 claims. If they had been dealt with in the way the hon. Gentleman has just suggested, the Royal Commission would have been considering those claims for another 20 years, and the awards would have come out long after most of the claimants were dead. Therefore, it is not, in my view, right that any blame should be attached to the Royal Commission, and I should like to say that my right hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Sir P. Lloyd-Greame), the late President of the Board of Trade, has asked me to associate his name with that, and also to pay a personal tribute to the enormous labour of Lord Sumner and the Commission in this matter.
Complaint has been made by the hon. Member of lack of sympathy. I suppose it is difficult to show sympathy in an official form, and official forms have to be used in cases like these. I can assure the hon. Member that Lord Sumner himself and the other members of the Royal Commission, and the members of the Reparation Claims Department of the Board of Trade, have had the greatest sympathy with these unfortunate claimants, and have worked long hours to do their best for them. It is neither the fault of the Royal Commission 2573 nor the fault of the permanent officials that hardship has ensued, and undoubted hardship there has been. The fault is because Germany has never been made to pay the damage she inflicted on our nationals. Whether Germany can pay or not is another matter, which I do not propose to go into to-night. But that is the fact—that the money has not been forthcoming. £5,000,000 was a totally inadequate sum—probably not more than 1/20th of the damage that had to be satisfied. That is the root cause of the difficulty. How the Government are going to meet that situation I do not know. The situation has not arisen as a result of the action of the present Government or as a result of any action by the late Government. It has arisen as a result of the method by which the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and his Government attempted to deal with the question in 1920, and this anti-climax, this disillusionment of unfulfilled hopes, which never should have been raised, was absolutely inevitable from the moment he attempted to conciliate these unfortunate sufferers by setting aside a sum which was grossly inadequate for the purpose.
§ Mr. T. HENDERSON
I want to add a word in support of the seamen who have been mentioned in this Debate, representing, as I do, a constituency where there are many sea-going men, and naturally, I have been called upon to raise their claims with the Board of Trade. I may say that if postcards were valuable, then the sea-faring people in my neighbourhood would be very rich indeed, because, in the main, that is all they have had out of it. I have gone personally to the Department. I have put up the case as represented to me by the individual seaman. I have never been successful in a single case, while knowing quite well that the case put up by the seaman was a sound one, inasmuch as he had been away from his country and failed to understand the date on which the notice expired, and his claim, therefore, was bound to become a belated one. We were told that every consideration would be given to seamen who were able to explain fully their inability to lodge a claim at the time stated. That may be true, but my experience has been that in not one single instance were they able to satisfy the Commissioners. I 2574 think we have got to recognise that the work done by the Commission was tremendous. We cannot blame them in the slightest. As the hon. Gentleman who spoke last said, we cannot blame the last Government, and there is no use in blaming the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), because it does not affect him in the slightest. If it did, then God help him! The sins that he has committed would entitle him to be submerged by the amount of blame he is entitled to receive. I am going to appeal to the Government on behalf——
§ It being a Quarter-past Eight of the Clock, and there being Private Business set down by the direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means under Standing Order No. 8, further Proceeding was postponed without Question put.