Postponed Proceeding resumed on Question proposed on Consideration of Question,
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 Grant in respect of Compensation for Suffering and Damage by Enemy Action
§ Question again proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £149,990, be granted for the said Service"
§ Mr. T. HENDERSON
In concluding my remarks, I wish to make an appeal to the responsible Ministers. I notice that none of them are here, but if their reply is going to be what it has always been in the past that will not make much difference. I am appealing in the interests of the men who are recognised to be seagoing men. The general public look upon the sailor as a man not at all to be com- 2578 pared with those in other occupations, and he is very easy-going. I wish to ask the Government to do the thing that is perfectly just by these men, who suffer, and are prepared to suffer, in their calling in a way the average worker is not called upon to suffer. I ask them to do the right thing by the seamen, and not only give them an added sum but make the settlement as much as they possibly can.
§ Mr. LOVERSEED
I merely rise in order to press forward the case of some people in my constituency who suffered through an air-raid in which a large number of cottages belonging to people of very small means were destroyed, and who put in applications for reparations, but up to this moment they have not received a single copper. In three of these cases the cottages were owned by men who lived in them, and some others were owned by very small men, and these cottages have not been put in order for the simple reason that the people themselves cannot afford to do the necessary repairs. Therefore, I suggest that these men should receive adequate compensation in order that they may put these cottages into a proper state of repair, and thus help to solve in a small way the present house shortage in that particular district.
I have been told that the reason the compensation has not been paid to these small people is because in the Press of 31st December, 1915, a notice was published to the effect that no compensation would be paid to persons who suffered damage by an air raid unless they had previously taken out an insurance policy. Of course, the majority of small owners do not bother to take out insurance policies. The air raid took place on the 31st March, 1916, when the damage was done. I suggest that the Government should find some more money in order to meet what I believe is the general sense of the House, and I urge that all those who suffered the loss of their property, and in two cases loss of life without adequate compensation, should be given the utmost consideration by the Government. I suggest that the Minister should take this urgent matter into consideration, and see if some more money cannot be found to meet the hardships of these small people.
§ Mr. HANNON
I wish to associate myself with the strong appeal which has been made to the Government to take a generous view of the very large number of sad cases that still survive the unfortunate War, and to whom no compensation or consideration of any kind has been given. I am certain that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will do everything that lies in his power to deal with these extremely difficult cases. In the Official Report of the Royal Commission in paragraph 15, particular attention is drawn to the cases of these applications. Members of this House have not been very critical in regard to the attitude of the Commission because it is recognised that they had a very difficult task, but in this particular paragraph they draw attention to the persons whose applications have not been received in time, and they point out various excuses and reasons that have been given why these claims had not been submitted to the Commission within the proper limit of time.
We all know that in the remote districts of this country you cannot expect poor people who have suffered injury during the War to keep in touch with the daily papers, and to receive the advice which is necessary in order to draw up their claims within the necessary limit of time. Now the present Government have an ample opportunity of showing their sympathy for a very poor class by taking into consideration the closing paragraph of Lord Sumner's Commission. Many, alas, can only say that they are in want, and unless they were able to show that they had suffered definitely in one form or another, they came outside all consideration by the Government or the Commission. In their recommendations the Commission go on to say:The Commission have felt that with the limited fund they had no right to be guided by such a consideration at the expense of other and more timely applicants. It must be remembered that any allowance in a belated life and health claim could only be made at the expense of property claims. The assessment of these claims has been postponed simply in order that earlier payments might be made to the former class of claimants.I think it is a pity to draw distinctions of that kind in the case of these claims. All along the Fast Coast from the North of Scotland, and particularly amongst our seafaring population, in many cases persons who made great sacrifices in the war have lost the whole of their little 2580 property, and in others the lives of those dearest to them, and they have not received one farthing of compensation at the expense of this or the previous Government. If there is one class of the community who really deserve the gratitude of the nation for their services in the War, it is the mercantile marine. No body of men has ever shown greater devotion to public duty, or has ever shown its anxiety to serve its country at a moment of most critical exigency, more than the mercantile marine of this great nation.
I had a great deal to do with the mercantile marine during the War. It was my function to adminster a large number of voluntary funds, one of which related to immediate relief to the dependants of those who lost their lives through enemy action at sea, and I found again and again skippers of trawlers, masters of tramp steamers, and members of every grade of service in the mercantile marine, who, notwithstanding their dreadful experiences of being torpedoed, were perfectly willing to take the same risks again and go to sea in the service of their country. I remember particularly the case of one skipper from Cardiff who, after being torpedoed three times, was prepared to go to sea again in order that our supplies of food and raw material might be kept up at a moment that was most critical in our national existence. In the case of applications of that kind, from people of that quality, no Government ought to stand upon mere technicalities or formalities in giving full and generous consideration, and I do plead with the Parliamentary Secretary, and, above all, with the Financial Secretary to the Treasury—who, I think, perhaps, after all, has as much to say as anyone else on the matter—to accede to the appeal that is being made here to-night for those persons who suffered so much during those tragic times in the War, so that they may have as full and generous and liberal consideration from His Majesty's Government as may be possible.
When I think of the millions that have been made out of the War by sheer barbarous profiteering on the part of unscrupulous people, when I see people rolling about in motor cars, I think to myself of the thousands of seamen with whose families I was in contact during 2581 the War, families who suffered so much while their nearest and dearest were serving the country at sea; and I say that these claims ought not to be left out of account at a moment when we are making some recognition of those who served us so well in the past. I do ask the Parliamentary Secretary and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to urge this upon the Government. The appeal that has been made here to-night not made merely upon humanitarian grounds; it is made upon the ground of giving back some measure of thankfulness, some manifestation of gratitude, to people who did so much and sacrificed so much for this country at the mast critical time in its history.
§ Mr. HARDIE
I want to draw attention to what is generally known as the belated claim. The belated claim as it is called, resulted in the past from the fact that, because of the general movement from place to place, the men concerned were not kept in touch with the Government papers and demands, and could not get their claims in in proper time. I have a great many claims under my charge. One of them dates back to December, 1922, and I am still being told that claims in that category have not yet been reached. One might imagine, from a statement like that, that we in this country were so short of clerical workers that it was impossible to get through the work of these belated claims. I do not know why they should be called belated claims, since in no sense can they be said to be the fault of those who were unable to get in touch with what was taking place, and I hope that this Government will deal with this question in a very different way from the preceding Government.
I want to draw attention to a practice which I hope this Government is going to cause to be discontinued. I refer to the method of payment. I remember one case in December, 1922, of a man whose claim was not a belated claim, but who had his award granted. In his case, however, the payment of the award was not to be in money, but in kind. When I arrived at that gentleman's house, I discovered that he was six months in arrear with his rent, but the factor had allowed him to continue the occupancy of his house on the basis of the grant that had been made. His grocer, also, 2582 was advancing food on the strength of the grant already made. When I started the fight, on returning to this House, to get to know why it was that only kind should be paid to this type of claimant, I got no satisfactory answer. Here was the man, with his wife and family, credited by a Government in the most stupid form. In fact, that carried an insult that ought to be met by force. It is an insult to men who have taken the risks that these men took, to say that, while they can be trusted in the outposts of the nation in its distress, they cannot be trusted with a few pounds that come to them, not as a reward, but as compensation for what they lost. It is an insult to the men of this country who took these risks.
What happened in that case? Letter followed letter for 18 months. It seems that the Department are willing to spend money on stationery and typing before they will do the humane thing by handing out to this man the money that he rightly deserves. He was six months behind with his rent, and three months' behind with his grocer's book, and yet we had the previous Government sitting by and saying, "We cannot alter this." When I got the case, with dozens of others, written about for the last time, I had to intimate to the Government at that time that here were men about to be thrown on to the street, not because they had not something with which to pay, for they had had their award, but simply because some man somewhere in the system had said, "'You cannot trust this type of man with any ready money."
I rather think my hon. Friend is getting away from the point of this Debate, because we have had no case at all, under the £5,000,000, where a man assessed has been paid in kind. They have all been paid in cash.
§ Mr. HARDIE
I am not getting away, and I will produce the correspondence I had with the previous Government. I am talking not only of one case but of many cases. In the end, when I got a letter from the last Government to say those men were going to be ejected from their homes, they decided to break the law in this way. The men were asked to call at the Adelphi Hotel, Glasgow, and they had to produce their rent books and their grocer's books, and after a long consultation with those men they tried first of all 2583 to get an interview with me to see, if they paid the rent direct to the factor, whether that would do. I refused on the ground that that man has a right to the money. If it is his, let him have it, and let him spend it. In the end I got the money for those men.
§ Mr. HARDIE
I was lucky, but I had to fight very hard for it. If it is a question of bringing evidence, I still have that evidence, because it is something of great value to show that when the War was on they made every kind of promise. "When you come back we will see you right. You are saving the nation. We will see that you are properly cared for." This morning I got a letter from another belated claim—Dear Sir,—I have written to you seven times since December, 1922. I am still without any word as to my claim.I go to the Department and I am told that claim has not been reached yet. It would be far more honest of Governments in the past if they had said to these people, "We are not going to pay," than to go on with this kind of stupid promise, always keeping the men hoping against hope for that which is their own I am not going to discuss for a moment whether this money is to come from Germany or anywhere else. That is not the subject we are discussing. We are discussing certain responsibilities assumed without conditions as to payment from Germany. It is the nation's pledge and I am hoping this Government is going to get rid of these belated claims. If there are claims put in which are not correct, tell the men straight out that they have no claim. Do not call any other claim a belated claim. Call it the claim of a man who has done his duty and you will never regret it.
Mr. GILCHRIST THOMPSON
I should like to add a few words to the appeal which has been made on all sides of the House. The cases which have come under my notice have been chiefly those of the fishermen of the south coast of England and were cases in which trawlers had been torpedoed by enemy action in defiance of the Hague Convention. I think the cases of these men should be considered in rather a special way. I have seen letters written by the 2584 Minister of Agriculture during the War to the owners of fishing trawlers appealing to them to continue fishing operations to preserve and maintain the food supplies of the country when there was dire need for that to be done. They continued fishing in spite of the risk. I am mentioning only Brixham, with which I am familiar. No fewer than 40 trawlers were torpedoed by enemy action. It has been said that many of these ships belonged to wealthy companies and not to the local men. I find that seven of these belonged to companies outside Brixham. The remainder were owned and worked by the working fishermen themselves. They were share boats. The whole of the loss falls upon that fishing port. Reference has been made to the dissatisfaction caused by the way these claims have been considered. No local inquiry was made, as far as I can discover, in any case, and again and again one comes across cases entirely similar in character in which claims for similar amounts have been dealt with in widely dis-similar ways. A case was brought before me only a few weeks ago, which I have referred to the Department concerned, of the skipper of a trawler who put in his claim for the loss of a trawler and has received nothing and the case of his mate who put in a claim for £12 for personal effects lost and received £29. Cases like that, when they become known locally, cause dissatisfaction. The amounts awarded on the average seem to have been about 5 to 10 per cent. of the claims made. In the case of Brixham the fishing trawlers have what may be called a devastated area of their own. Owing to enemy action during the War there are some 150 wrecks of torpedoed ships along the coast line in the fishery ground which is ordinarily visited by the Brixham trawling fleet, and last year it was estimated that no less than £5,000 worth of trawling gear was lost owing to that cause. For that there is no kind of compensation whatever. This damage is directly attributable to the War and is going on every day and is likely to continue.
I do not suppose any class of sufferers would attempt to contend that it is possible to obtain equality of sacrifice. The fishermen with whom I am familiar, being independent people, would be the last to appeal for any special treatment, but I suggest that their claim is a very 2585 strong one and it should appeal especially to the Government, for the loss is going on continually. So long as due compensation is not paid the fishing industry concerned will be deteriorated. We owe a debt of honour to these men and we also owe it to ourselves that an industry which has suffered pecuniarily from this cause shall not be allowed to go to pieces owing to the fact that those who have lost trawlers and ships and gear are unable, so long as there is inadequate compensation, to make good that loss and to replace those ships. It has been said that these owners should have insured; but they could only have insured—in most cases they did—up to two-thirds of the pre-War value of the ships. It is clear that compensation of that amount would be quite inadequate to replace the ships. I content myself by stating these facts and making one further appeal to the Government to come to the help of one of the fundamental industries of this country, by providing employment for a class of men who represent one of the finest elements in our country but who, so long as compensation is not given to them, are actually faced with the disappearance of their means of livelihood. This is an appeal which should not only strike our sympathy, but should come home in a very practical way to the President of the Board of Trade and the Minister of Labour, who are attempting to set on foot schemes to provide work for the unemployed. These two things are very closely bound up together. I appeal, as hon. Members in all parts of the House have appealed, for further consideration of these cases.
§ Mr. CASSELS
As the representative of a division east of London which suffered a good deal during the air raids in war time, I want to join with my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet (Mr. Harmsworth), who raised this discussion, in his appeal to the Government to do something in the matter of reparation for damage caused by enemy action. This matter has been thoroughly mishandled by all Governments that have had anything to do with it. During the war, all sorts of things were done by the enemy which were never anticipated by the most intelligent Government Department that ever handled a single document connected with the war, and among the unanticipated things were Zeppelin raids.
2586 I wonder whether the representatives of the Government who are going to answer in a few minutes, with sympathy, ever take their minds back to those dark days and nights that we used to have during the air raids in and around London. Do they realise that there are large numbers of people who suffered as a result of those air raids who have had no sort of adequate compensation from the nation for what they suffered? It is said that this has nothing to do with the Government. It is said that compensation cannot be legally claimed. Let us grant all that. Is there anybody, either a Member of the present Government or a Member of the late Government, who would be prepared to say that, immediately after one of those air raids, he would have stood up and have addressed the people of this country, and have said, "No matter what you have suffered during these air raids, the nation is not going to take responsibility. We will appoint a Royal Commission. We will limit the Commission in the money they have at their disposal. We will handicap them by every means we can, and when your claims are made you will be lucky if you get 5 or 10 per cent. of what you think you ought to get." That is not the proper way to deal with this matter.
It is said that some of these claims for damage to property have been dealt with, that the claimants have been told that they might have insured against the loss, and that, inasmuch as they did not insure against loss, the claim is not one that can be considered by the Commission. I have yet to hear that it was one of the penalties of failure to insure, or that it was ever made known that it would be one of the penalties that persons who suffered damage would get no compensation. Large numbers of the people concerned were not even familiar with the possibility of insuring against the risk which every one of us in this country took. Large numbers of these people were poor people to whom the premiums for such insurance were impossible, and to turn round and say to these people, "You might have insured, and as you have not insured we cannot consider your claim," is surely the wrong way of dealing with these problems which have arisen as a result of the War.
The Noble Lord the Member for Southampton (Lord Apsley) said that it was no use to blame the Commission. 2587 because the Commission had to deal with a limited sum which was totally inadequate to enable them to deal with their task. That is the very thing of which we are now complaining. We say that this was a matter for the nation as a whole, and inasmuch as we have had in this House complaints from representatives of the mercantile marine, representatives of the fishermen and representatives of civilians who, while not taking part in the War, were bound to exist in this country and have suffered damage, surely the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will be able on behalf of a Labour Government to say that they are prepared to do what the Coalition Government and what the Conservative Government never did. That would be a fine cry to make, and perhaps the Government could make it a true cry for once by saying, "We will scrap all this business of the Commission. We will put a full stop to it. We will appoint a court of inquiry to investigate all these claims, whether they be belated or not We will see how much it will cost the public adequately to compensate the people who have suffered this damage, and then find out whether the House of Commons, which is representative of the nation, will provide the money." If the House of Commons is prepared to provide the money, then it will be an interesting task for the Government to find it.
Inasmuch as the Government can find money for schemes which, perhaps, have not as much universal support in the House as this scheme, perhaps they will, for once in a way, find the money for a scheme which will have universal support. Everyone realises that the Commission had to work an impossible thing. No one has suggested that the scheme which has been in existence up to now is worthy either of sympathy or of support. I have listened to the Debate on this question from its start. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury has sat on the Treasury Bench Sphinx-like, not giving any indication as to what is the important pronouncement he is going to make. I can only hope that he will be able to make a really first-class, satisfactory announcement, to indicate to the people who are following this Debate with keen interest and personal concern, 2588 that, at last, there has arisen in the land a Government which is prepared sympathetically, and more than sympathetically, financially, to consider all these claims, to investigate them judicially, and when an award is made, to pay.
§ Mr. NIXON
I ask the indulgence of the Committee in rising to address it for the first time. Nearly everybody to whom I have spoken has told me that on the occasion of my maiden speech I should address the House upon a subject of which I know something. I venture to address the House on this subject of damage caused by enemy action. There is a phase of the subject which deserves the attention of the Government which has not been mentioned in the Debate. So far as human suffering is concerned, the major portion of it fell upon poor people, and it fell upon them in the main because their homes were near the factories or works which the enemy aircraft sought to attack. A town in which I live was attacked on the famous 31st January, 1916, and there were three workmen killed. By some means or other two of the widows of these men have received certain sums—I think one received £628 and another received £120—but the third widow has received nothing, and she is the mother of seven or eight children. At the time of the air raid she was an expectant mother, and her husband was killed in the course of proceeding from his work to get to his wife in the particular circumstance.
This widow, who probably endured the most suffering of the three, was left out of account by the Commission when dealing with claims of this character. I desire to point out to the Government what I regard as a very logical conclusion. That is that once the principle of compensation is admitted at all, then the Government should treat all the cases with the same consideration, and if it was right that two of these people should receive consideration, then there can be no excuse for a refusal in the third case. Therefore, I shall consider that my first Parliamentary effort can claim to be called successful, to some extent, if it is the means of directing attention to the uneven results that have followed from the administration of the system of paying compensation which has hitherto existed.
§ Mr. A. V. ALEXANDER
I want in a very few minutes to deal with some of the administrative points that have been raised in connection with the administration of these payments. The major portion of the Debate has been on the question of the adequacy of the sums which have been voted for this particular purpose. My hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will speak later in the Debate, and will deal with the questions which have been raised in that particular connection. References have been made in the Debate to delay in dealing with the administration of the sums which have been voted by Parliament. As far as the present administration of the Board is concerned, I mean the Government administration, we have not much concern with that. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. A. Chamberlain) first announced the decision of his Government to make a grant in May, 1920, so that most of the period about which the delay is alleged had elapsed before the present Government came into power. But I agree entirely with the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) as to the enormous difficulty of the work taken over by the Department in dealing with the question, and also by the Royal Commission in getting the work proceeded with.
I do not think that hon. Members always realise the extent of the problem that faces the Department and the Royal Commission. The claims that came in probably numbered 70,000 separate claims, all of which had to be gone into in detail and assessed. The variety of them, and the number of world conditions they affected—because they related to all parts of the world where enemy action took place—made it exceedingly difficult to deal with the matter, and involved, moreover, the setting up of very intricate tables, and test cases, and adjudication of a very varied and difficult character. Both my right hon. Friend and myself have been concerned about the question since we went to the Board of Trade, and have made detailed inquiries as to the administration inside the Department, and I am bound to say that the Department and the Sumner Commission ought to receive the thanks of the House for the way in which they have tackled the matter.
2590 A question has also been raised with regard to the treatment of the category of claims which are described as belated claims. We have at present some 29,000 claims which were received after the date had been fixed. I do not think that it can be argued that the step taken by the Sumner Commission to fix a date was not a sound one. This House had voted a sum of £5,000,000 to be administered by the Commission. They had to assess the claims, and they could not possibly, after they had assessed the damage, scale down the amount to be paid in individual cases until they knew the total number of claims which were going to be received and the amount of the assessments given upon the claim. The date was first fixed in February, 1922. That was two years after the first announcement was made by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham. But because of representations, which were made in this House and in other directions, the date was further extended until December and claims were admitted until December, 1922.
The attitude adopted by Lord Sumner's Commission as to whether those claims ought to rank or not is set out in the second report of the Committee which has been accepted by the Government. But Lord Sumner pointed out, quite clearly that the whole question was one of ex gratia payments and that there was no legal right to this money. The Government have granted in addition to the first £5,000,000, a sum of £300,000 on behalf of those who did not send in their claims in time. There was some reference in the debate to what has been done since the Government announced their decision to give Another £300,000 for these belated claims. If they were going to administer an ex gratia payment of £300,000, they would have to do it in one of two ways. They would either have to have those claims assessed on the same basis as had been adopted by the Sumner Commission, or they would have to agree upon a flat rate payment, which would be spread over the whole of the claims which were allowed as good claims in the belated claims category. It appeared to the Government that it would be very unfair to assess the belated claims on a different scale from that which had been allowed by the Sumner Commission and to adopt a flat rate payment would make it very unfair, 2591 and every one of the claims in the belated claims category had therefore to be separately examined and assessed.
We extended the date up to which claims might be received to rank for treatment as belated claims up to 2nd June, but without waiting for that date to pass, the Department immediately set about assessing the claims which had been received. Up to the present we have had effective claims numbering over 25,000. The work is being proceeded with as rapidly as possible. Over 6,000. of the claims have been assessed during the past few weeks, and, as we have announced, it is hoped that the assesment of the belated claims will be completed within the next two or three months, and a settlement made within the sum which has been granted by Parliament for the purpose. The hon. Member for Springburn (Mr. Hardie) suggested that this process could be expedited by the employment of more clerks, but the very nature of the work to be done, if you are to have anything like a fair measure of justice done to the people who make claims, requires that you must leave the assessment of the claims to people who have experience of the work and know how to handle each case on its individual merits, and be able to apply to a particular case the proper and effective scale which was laid down by the Sumner Commission.
The Noble Lord the Member for Southampton (Lord Apsley) complained about the treatment of some claims in which he was interested. He first referred to the case of a seaman in Southampton, wino said that he had sent in a claim in time, that he had had four acknowledgments, and had then been told that his claim was too late. My experience of the work of the Department makes that a very difficult case to understand. I hope that they Noble Lord will be able to send to me the certified date on which the claim was submitted, so that we may be able to check these statements. Another point raised was that one of the seamen in whom the Noble Lord was interested had submitted a claim for £849, and had received only £65, in instalments of £30 and £35. The Noble Lord forgot, as many hon. Members forget, when thinking about the amount assessed in that way upon claims, that this fund, which was set up by the Coalition Government, was by no means the only fund available to people who had 2592 sustained enemy damage. I do not want to go too far in that direction. No doubt the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will give fuller details. Where a claim for a large sum like that has been submitted, the people who assess the claim have always had to take into account, not merely the bare claim, but what has already been received by the claimant from the other funds available.
§ Captain Viscount CURZON
In that connection, does the hon. Gentleman refer to charitable funds or Government funds?
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I refer quite specifically to schemes which were set up by the Coalition Government, the war risks compensation scheme and the like, under which pensions were awarded and are still being paid, altogether apart from the Fund which the Committee is now discussing. There was another point mentioned, and that was that many of the claimants felt aggrieved because in reply to many communications they received only a printed postcard saying that their letters would have attention. We ought to recognise the great difficulty of the Department in dealing with thousands and thousands of letters, but my right hon. Friend, since we have been in charge of the administration, has arranged that, in cases where the claimant is told that his claim is not admitted for the full amount or is refused, a letter is to be sent to him telling him on what ground the claim is turned down or on what ground it is very considerably reduced. I think that the steps taken in that way will considerably lighten the post-bags of some hon. Members who represent the districts concerned. I do not think it is necessary to take up more time on points of administration. I would urge the Committee to remember the enormous task which confronted both the Department and the Royal Commission, and to accept my assurance that, having looked into the administration of this Department ourselves, we are satisfied that very excellent work has been done and is being done, and that we shall be able, with the present arrangements, to get a very satisfactory administration of the further sum which is now being voted by Parliament for belated claims.
§ Sir ROBERT HORNE
The Committee will readily realise that I have not risen to make any attack upon the Depart- 2593 mental administration to which the Parliamentary Secretary has referred. As an old President of the Board of Trade I gladly add my quota as to the skill and tact with which the Departmental work is done and the energy and sympathy which are exhibited in dealing with the vast multitudes of claims, not all of them genuine or very good, that come before the Department for the purpose of being determined. I would also like to say that the Sumner Commission, in a very difficult position, restricted as it was in the amount of money which it had to dispense, has discharged the task which was laid upon it to the admiration of us all. I am not certain that any person here, even the most critical, would be ready in such circumstances to find a more active means of dealing with the situation with which they were confronted than that Commission itself discovered. Accordingly, it is not a question of Departmental administration or the work of the Sumner Commission upon which I shall address the Committee. Before I pass to the special point for which I have risen, may I say that the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Harmsworth), who started this discussion, raised a question which the Government must now review for itself. There have been many speeches from all parts of the Committee which have disclosed conditions, some of which undoubtedly, even to an old President of the Board of Trade, are new—difficulties and hardships which had not certainly brought themselves to our mind at that time sufficiently, or, at least, to the same extent as they have done to-day. My own feeling is that the Government must not be content to stand where we stood in the short experience that we had of this great matter. It is now their duty to review the whole position, to consider whether everything is being done to remedy the hardships under which many of these people are suffering.
The point to which I wish to refer is concerned with a branch of this subject; which has not yet been touched upon. There are certain people outside Great Britain who also deserve the serious consideration of the Government. I dare say it is well known to everybody present that very large numbers of our fellow subjects have suffered grievously through enemy action not within this island but outside it. There were, for example, 2594 numbers of British people who, in pursuit of British trade, had settled and were carrying on business in such French towns as Lille, Roubaix, Ghent and Armentieres, and many of them in Belgium as well as France. These people were carrying on their active trade, which was of the greatest possible advantage to this Kingdom. They were the people who were enabling our people here to sell their goods because they were the merchants. They had set up engineering shops. Others had gone in for the spinning trade and there was a very large business being done in English textiles. Some of them we know only too well suffer very grievously to-day. A very considerable part of the hardship from which they are suffering now is due to the damage which they incurred during the War. Some of these people came back to fight for us. Many of them stayed to carry on their business even as against the German incursions. Large numbers were interned in Germany and suffered all the agonies which so many of them had to endure in that country.
What happened to them when they returned to the places where they had been accustomed to carry on? They found their workshops wrecked. They found their machinery had entirely disappeared. They found their buildings damaged, in many cases beyond repair. They were not in a position, with all their fortunes gone, to start again. I ask the Committee to contrast in the result the position of these people with ours, whose case was not a bit more worthy of consideration. Take a British citizen who was carrying on business in Germany. If he suffered damage, his opportunity for compensation was obtained from the Mixed Arbitral Tribunal sitting in England, which assesses the amount of compensation to which he is entitled and which is liquidated out of German property in England, and, accordingly, he gets his compensation. Take, by way of contrast again, the position of the Frenchman or Belgian who has been working in France alongside our own citizens. They have not been neglected and have, in most cases, obtained large sums in compensation. But the British citizen in France has had nobody really to look to for the repair of the damage which he suffered, and in the effort to carry on his trade to-day in com- 2595 petition with competitors in France he has not had sufficient money to re-establish his business or repair his battered workshops or retrieve the machinery previously there.
This is a great disadvantage, not merely to the people who suffered, but in many respects has led to the killing of our trade in France. In view of that I urge the Government to take these cases into their immediate consideration. The French Government passed a law, I think in 1919, which provides that compensation should be available to such citizens if the claim were put forward by the Government to which the foreigner who made the claim belonged. This arrangement, as hon. Members may imagine, entirely failed to work, because you can only get compensation if there were reciprocal claims by French and British. But in view of the fact that there was no French property in this country, or very little, that had suffered any damage, there was no fund from which compensation could be paid. In 1920 the present right hon. Member for West Birmingham provided a fund of £5,000,000, which has been used by the Commission since for the compensation of people who could put forward their claims. I do not think it could be imagined at that time that an adequate idea was held as to what the amount of these claims should be, or whether this fund would go far in meeting them, but it was an attempt certainly to do something at that time with our inadequate knowledge and experience. Now it would appear that this fund does not touch more than the fringe of the subject. I know it is certain to be said that to provide any more funds is going to put an additional tax on the British taxpayer. That is the thing I should be very unwilling myself to do, but when I see the kind of things the present Government do with the money which is available, it is intensely forced upon me that they have passed over, very unjustly, people with a far more adequate claim than many of those to whom they have dispensed the surplus which they inherited. [interruption.] There was a fund actually being provided by Germany in the shape of the duty which was being levied on their goods exported here. [Interruption.] I know the hon. Member takes a very rigid and pigheaded view 2596 upon this topic.[HON. MEMBERS: "Order !"]
The right hon. Gentleman says that the Germans were providing the money. Is it not a fact that right up to the end, until this Government came in, this money was not being provided at all?
§ Sir R. HORNE
On the contrary. My hon. and gallant Friend is misapprehending the point I am making. There was a fund coming from Germany in the shape of reparations out of the duty levied on German goods. There was a very considerable sum—about, £8,000,000 a year—which was being derived from the impost upon German goods. If I am exaggerating in saying £8,000,000, I am perfectly certain it was not less than £5,000,000.
§ Sir R. HORNE
If the Government do not feel themselves to be in a position to find more funds, if they are going to tell the Committee they are either unwilling or unable to find further funds for the purpose of meeting this very necessary object—[Interruption.] It has been proposed to them that payment should be made in a way which the Government certainly could control. The French people in whose territory these sufferings have been incurred really are entrusted, so far as the Treaty of Versailles is concerned, with providing compensation for people who have suffered in their territory, and they are, indeed, providing compensation for Belgians who suffered hardships in the same way as our people. I suggest that payment should be made in French Bonds, which should be set off against the sum which France at the present time owes Great Britain. That would be a perfectly fair way of meeting these particular claims, and it seems to me it is the very least which can be done by this Government and by the French Government, to satisfy the people who suffered on French territory.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
The right hon. Gentleman seems very anxious to secure compensation for British merchants and manufacturers in France whose property 2597 was destroyed during the War, but why did he not put that argument before the Coalition Government of which he was Chancellor of the, Exchequer?
§ Sir R. HORNE
There is a history attached to this. At that time we were very anxious to find the extent of the genuine claims in connection with this matter, and all the avenues had not been exhausted with a view to finding out what might possibly be done. What I am now putting forward is, I think, a plan worthy of consideration for obtaining redress, and it is no answer to inquire of me why did I not propose it to the Government of which I was a member. It may be I was wrong and unenlightened. Let this Government show how capable they can be. I do not object to them getting the credit for doing it if only they will recompense these people who have suffered. There is one other point. I think all of these people who have been damaged through enemy action in the ways that has been described to-day should have an assurance from the Government that whatever is received in the shape of reparations from Germany should be put into a fund out of which payment can be made to them. I would like to have an assurance from the Government that they will assist these people who to-day are suffering very great hardship, and enduring it sometimes with very great difficulty. Let them have an assurance which will sustain them in the difficulties with which they are confronted. Many of them are in a state of despair. They have been maintaining our trade and reputation wherever they have been, and at least they should get sympathetic continuous and persistent help from the Government of this country.
§ Mr. ALSTEAD
I want to place before the Committee the claims of the small owners whose property was damaged during the period of the War. To-day I ventured to address a question to the President of the Board of Trade as to how many of the claims made by such people as were uninsured at the time the damage was done are still outstanding. The reply I received stated that no fewer than 518 of these claims are still unmet. I know the Government take the view that since the owners of this damaged property failed to avail themselves of the provisions made for anti-aircraft insurance their claims are not worthy of consideration. If that is the view of the 2598 President of the Board of Trade I hope he will reconsider it. The circumstances obtaining at the time these air raids were prevalent rendered it almost impossible in many cases for owners of a certain class of property, however willing they might be, to take out these insurances. I know the returns from cottage property were so low that the owners could not find the money necessary for even small premiums. I contend that the owners of this class of property had a perfect right to expect that the Government of the country would see to it that any damage caused by enemy action would carry with it compensation, irrespective of whether such properties were or were not insured against enemy action.
I was astonished to hear the right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) suggest at this time of the day that the reparations duties ought to have been retained so that the revenue from those duties could be used to meet these particular claims. The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as anyone in this House, and better than most people, that the duties were, in fact, being paid by the purchasers of the goods on which they were levied in this country, and the manufacturers of Lancashire realised that, for the results of the last election in the Manchester area proved by the return of Free Trade Liberals that that was the view they entertained. However that may be, I was astonished that the right hon. Gentleman, holding as he has held for so long such a responsible position in connection with the financial affairs of this country, should now ask a Government, new in office, shackled as it is by the blunders of his party and of the Government to which he belonged, to do this thing. I am going to make a suggestion to the President of the Board of Trade. A good deal has been said about the efficiency of the administration of this particular Reparations Commission. No one has attempted to dispute the fact that this Department has proved its efficiency in many ways, but in many other ways it has shown by its failure to meet legitimate cases that all is not as will as hon. Members have tried to make out. In the interest of these poor people who suffered from enemy aircraft this damage during the War, and had their property 2599 wiped out—as much was wiped out in the town which I represent, for there the properties are still untenanted and will not be tenanted until the owners are paid compensation which will enable them to put the houses into tenantable repair again—surely these people who suffered this damage have a right to expect that the Government of this country should stand by them and see that money is forthcoming to repair their property. Those of us who are not accustomed to the devious ways of Ministers of State took it that there would be no question that, the damage having been caused by enemy action, the money would be forthcoming to put the property back again into reasonable repair. Because of the distress in which these people find themselves, I appeal to the President of the Board of Trade or the Parliamentary Secretary to take up the challenge of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) and show to the country that this Government have serious regard for their moral obligations and will see that these people receive the compensation to which they are justly entitled.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I was struck by the intervention of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne), and was interested in the latter-day suggestion he brought forward, not so much in the interests of the people of this country who suffered losses in this country, or of the members of the Mercantile Marine, many of whom lost all they had after being submarined two, three and four times, as in other interests. It is interesting to find six years after the War has ended, the late Chancellor of the Exchequer and deputy-lieutenant to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd-George) coming forward with a suggestion of this kind, mainly for business men in France.
§ Sir R. HORNE
That suggestion is surely very unworthy of the hon. Member. I was not omitting to consider the claims of people in this country at all; on the contrary I began my speech with a reference to them, but the matter had been dealt with at some length, and this is a discussion in which one must take up one part of the subject and deal with it.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I do not mean that is the sole interest of the right hon. Gentle- 2600 man in this matter, and if it seems to the mind of the right hon. Gentleman that I imputed such motives as he indicates, I withdraw any such imputation. What I wished to bring out was that it was interesting to find the right hon. Gentleman having been four years in office, in a Government with the largest majority which any Government has possessed in the last 50 years of British political history, coming forward with a suggestion of this kind now. It shows surely that it is a suggestion which has only recently occurred to him; a suggestion which did not occur to him while he had the power to put it into operation. It shows very clearly that other very valuable suggestions may crop up a year hence among Members of the right hon. Gentleman's own party or of other parties. The manufacturers, for whom the right hon. Gentleman put forward this case, who had businesses in France and who went back to find their premises destroyed, their machinery gone and their carefully worked-up businesses ruined, should, it is said, come within the scope of the £5,300,000 which has been granted to cover damage by enemy action.
§ Sir R. HORNE
They do come within it, and they have had a certain amount of compensation out of that fund.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to develop my argument. Surely those who had factories and business premises destroyed in those areas of France which are described as devastated areas, should come within the scope of the fund which is restoring the devastated areas. Consequently I fail to see how such individuals can come within the scope of two funds.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I am quite willing to accept the right hon. Gentleman's word that they do not, but as their property was destroyed in France undoubtedly they should come within the scope of the fund for the restoration of the devastated areas and if our representatives on the various Committees and Commissions which have dealt with this matter have not seen to it that these Britishers were placed within the scope of that fund, as they were entitled to be, then they did not do their business in the proper way. We are asked now to re- 2601 view the whole position. How long are we going to continue reviewing the position? The hon. Member for West Leyton (Mr. Cassels) made some suggestion about scrapping the inquiries which have been made and setting up a new inquiry.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
The Parliamentary Secretary says that the cases are being investigated at present. Hon. Members want the procedure to be scrapped.
§ Mr. HARMSWORTH
The hon. Member referred to "scrapping the inquiry," and there has been no inquiry.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I understand these cases are at present under the consideration of the Board of Trade. Otherwise why are we discussing the matter on a Board of Trade Vote?
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I should have said that the Sumner Commission was sitting upon these cases and I understood that the hon. Member opposite wanted to scrap the inquiry which is being made.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
At any rate, I understood the hon. Member for West Leyton to suggest that we should have another inquiry and that we should start de novo.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I am not taking the point made by the hon. Member for Thanet, but the point made by the hon. Member for West Leyton. I thought the hon. Member for West Leyton was in his place, but I see I am mistaken. So far as I understood it, the suggestion was that we should scrap such inquiries as are being made and institute a new inquiry into the matter. I take from that suggestion that it is wished to bring what are called belated claims into the same category as the other claims which have received part of the £5,000,000.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
There appears to be a very fine esprit de corps among hon. Members on the other side. They are prepared to shoulder each other's burdens. It was not always so when the Die-Hards 2602 were in existence. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about last night?"] Last night we were fighting for what we have always believed in. I understand that these belated claims are only going to receive £300,000. That is the new sum which is going to be paid by the Government, and £5,000,000 is to be granted in respect of other claims received before a particular date. The Parliamentary Secretary gave us some figures and said there were 50,000 eases which had been admitted to participate in the £5,000,000, and that of the belated claims that had been received there were 29,000 cases to share in the £300,000 granted by the Government. I consider that this method of dealing with these claims and the money allocated is most inadequate and also unjust, and there is an inequality about it that ought not to be accepted by this Committee. If you have 50,000 cases receiving a share of the £5,000,000, it amounts to about £100 each, whereas the 29,000 belated cases, if an equal distribution is given, will receive only £10 each, and very probably some of these belated claims are cases that are worse than some of the claims that were admitted prior to the closing date. I am not blaming this Government, which is saddled with a very bad heritage handed down to it, but this Government ought to do something more for the belated claimants. I have scores of cases in my constituency—difficult cases. I have had cases where people were being turned out of their house, and, owing to my personal representations to the house agent that I was trying to fight their case, to get the money to which they were entitled, the agent was good enough to allow them to remain, on the strength of those representations. Some of those people have now had to be put out of their houses. They have been trying to get the money to which they are entitled. One individual was torpedoed three times. He was in the water three times and lost his all, and all that he can get is one of these postcards.
It is trying people's patience, and the patience of Members of this House, who get these people coming to them constantly when they appear in the constituencies, and who receive letters from them stating the whole of the writers' domestic affairs, and asking if anything can be done to lift them out of this difficult condition. When we send these 2603 letters on and make our representations to the Ministry, and the Ministry before this, and the one before that, it is always the same thing—a long procession of postmen delivering these old post cards, acknowledging receipt of our letters. The matter is getting beyond a joke. There are tragedies going on in hundreds of homes in this country to-day because of the niggardliness and the procrastination of the last three Governments. It is time this question was brought to an end. The Department's administration may be as efficient as it can possibly be, but if it fails to give these people the money to which they are entitled, it is not an efficient administration. The work that it is set up to do is to pay these people the money to which they are entitled, and When it does that we will join in the praise showered on it by the Under-Secretary and by the right hon. Member for Hillhead, and we will say then that it is efficient, but let it give us the proof first.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Sir CHARLES STARMER
I am sure every one sympathised with the Government on being called upon to tackle the great problem of Reparations for damage by enemy action. I think every Member will gladly vote the payment of any sum of money necessary in order to give justice to these claimants, and therefore I deprecate any attack that may be made upon the Government in this matter. They are not to blame, and I do not agree with the hon. Member opposite who said that the Government were unwilling to do justice. They are faced with a tremendous difficulty, and it is our business to try and help them out of it. I therefore hope the matter will be discussed entirely from that point of view. I think the Government have shown their sympathy by answering questions quite frankly to the effect that the giving of the £5,000,000 was not an attempt to do justice, but merely some little consolation to those claimants whose claims have been admitted. If the figures be worked out, in the cases of my Division, it comes to about 6 per cent. of the amount claimed, but when you come to the belated claims, it works out at about—10 apiece for the 30,000 claimants, and, in the light of experience, that sum is totally inadequate. I am grateful to the Par- 2604 liamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade for his statement to-night, not only because of what he said, but also because of what he did not say. In trying to defend the Department in the gigantic task with which they are faced, he naturally did his best to help them out of their difficulty, but I think he clearly showed that a, different method is needed in order to get justice for these people, that the old way has failed, and failed ignominiously, and that, if we want at this late hour to do justice, some new method will have to be set up I therefore support most heartily the suggestion that there should be an inquiry into the whole circumstances of the case. We know that there is no legal claim. But it is a case for doing justice to these men and women who suffered through enemy attack during the War.
I think the Government would be delighted if they could see a way out, and I am satisfied that all the Members below the Gangway would be pleased. I think our Friends on the other side would also be glad, notwithstanding what the right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) said, to help the Government to find the money. This is a very pathetic business. I have many cases in my constituency, a coast constituency, with a majority of poor people, many of whom have been out of work for a long time. In some parts they were bombarded two or three times a week by the enemy, and the people suffered great damage to their property. I do not want to weary the Committee with many cases, but I know of one where a woman's husband was away fighting in the War. He died shortly after he came home, and she is left with three bairnies on the parish. Her house was demolished in one of the air raids, but she has got neither raparation for her damage nor a pension for the loss of her husband, and she now depends on the parish for her livelihood. Some of the villages in my district are fishing villages, and there are several hard cases. I will cite only one, but I could give many. I will give the case of two brothers, who lost their boat, all their tackle, their nets, and everything connected with their business. They knew nothing about insurance, and have waited patiently for years, hoping to receive reparation. The result was made known a few weeks ago. Their claim was a just one, for £600, but they have obtained only £20. They have 2605 paid £5 to the lawyer who put their claim through, and so they have received £7 10s. each. Before the accident, they both made a livelihood for their wives and families. Now I hear that one of them is in the workhouse, and the other is unable to work, because they have not got their boat replaced on account of the damage done by the enemy.
Those are only two cases. I could give scores from the division that I represent. I do say that nobody in this country would grudge paying a little extra money to do justice to the men who have suffered. I know all sympathise with these people, and many of them are very poor people. I could give a number of cases of people now dependent on charity because their claims have not been met. The Government ought to help these people. I know it is a big job to undertake. It ought to have been undertaken by previous Governments, but this has been gathering in force from year to year, and it is not enough to say that because the late Governments did not do it, it is not now to be done. I want the House to sink political considerations, and the Government to be courageous and to say that they will combine with the other parties in the, House, to try and formulate a scheme, so that justice can be done to the many poor people concerned.
§ Sir THOMAS INSKIP
The hon. Member who has just spoken has chosen a subject which has secured for him the interest and sympathy of the Committee, and I am sure the Committee will desire to congratulate him on the speech he has made. The Committee are in an obvious difficulty at this stage of the evening in dealing with the question in the absence of any guidance from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury as to the attitude the Government intend to adopt. I had hoped long before this hour we should have known what action the Government were prepared to take, or, at any rate, have been informed of the grounds upon which the Government find it impossible to adopt the course which hon. Members in all parts of the Committee have invited them to take. I think it ought to be borne in mind that for the most part the claims for which we are seeking the sympathy of the Government are claims about which there can be no mariner of doubt what- 2606 ever. Everybody would desire to join in the tribute paid to Lord Sumner and his colleagues who have conducted the tedious and tiresome investigation, which has resulted in the Reports presented to Parliament. One thing has emerged from these thorough investigations, and that is that, speaking generally, the claims are absolutely unanswerable, both in the foundation of the claims themselves and in the amounts of the claims presented. They have been sifted by the Commission; they have been corroborated by independent evidence; they have been verified by every piece of evidence which so experienced an investigator as Lord Sumner could think of, and I venture to say they have been proved up to the hilt over and over again as claims which are worthy of support from the Commission. The Commission has almost gone out of its way in saying that the claims have been honestly prepared, and though there have been a few claims which, undoubtedly, were not so sound as others, speaking generally, the manner in which the claims have been presented does credit to those persons who have presented them.
We have to bear in mind that the foundation of these claims is the Treaty of Versailles. Hon. Members will not forget that by Article 232—I think it was—and the Annexe to that part of the Treaty, these claims were treated as a solemn obligation on the part of Germany to discharge. In the same category as these claims stand in the Annexe to the Treaty stand the claims against Germany in respect of the payment of pensions to wounded persons, and to the dependants of persons who lost their lives in the War, and it is impossible to separate the claims which we are considering to-night in their moral value from the claims included under the general head of pensions. Both sets of claims were deliberately put into the Treaty, and Great Britain and the Allies determined to exact them from Germany as part of the reparations which Germany was under an obligation to pay. No hon. Member will listen for a moment to the suggestion that the claims which come under the head of pensions ought not to be discharged because Germany has failed to meet the obligations undertaken by the Treaty of Versailles, and I respectfully suggest to the Government it is equally wrong to say that these claims ought to await 2607 the payment of reparations by Germany before Great Britain can discharge her duty to her own subjects. There is this further fact which appears from the Reports of the Royal Commission. The Commission says:It has been necessary to scrutinise the claims more strictly than the Commission would have desired to do by reason of the inadequacy of the sum that has been provided.I do not like that sentence in the Report. The Commission was undoubtedly faced with the unpleasant necessity of cutting down the claims. I do not complain in the least of the action it has taken, but, speaking as a Member of Parliament, and of the race which owes such a great debt to merchant seamen and others who bore their burdens uncomplainingly and unflinchingly, I do not like to read that our representatives have scrutinised just and verified claims with greater strictness than the Commission would have desired to do if they had been provided with the necessary funds to discharge our obligations.
There is another word in the Report which I do not like to read, for it has an ominous sound. In the second Report of the Royal Commission they say that, having been unable to pay in full the debts, which they have found to be real claims upon the country, they have paid a dividend. The only people who pay dividends are those who are either unable or unwilling to discharge their obligations, and as long as Great Britain is both desirous of discharging her obligations and able to provide the means of discharging her obligations, I do not like to read that we are only discharging those obligations to the extent of a dividend of either 10, 15, 20 or 50 per cent. If the claims are good claims, and as long as the money is available, they ought to be paid, as the hon. Member says, to the extent of 20s. in the £.
It may be convenient that I should say one word as to the position in which the late Government were, though I speak with no official authority on this matter, and merely with the same information that any other hon. Member has. But, surely, every hon. Member would agree it would be most unfortunate if these men were cheated of their proper rights while words were being bandied from 2608 one side of the House to the other as to who was responsible for not discharging this obligation. If it were necessary that any one on this side should stand in a white sheet, I am sure no one would shrink from it; but whether we put on a white sheet or not, that will not discharge my hon. Friend from approaching the matter in the way it ought to be approached. The Royal Commission was appointed in 1921, in the days of the Coalition Government. The claims came in slowly; they had to be examined with the greatest and most meticulous care, and scrutinised in the manner I have described. The First and Interim Report of the Royal Commission was only presented in February, 1923, and at that time the number of claims sent in was said to exceed 50,000, and a large number of claims had still been unexamined. It was not known to what extent the money provided would suffice to meet the claims that had been sent in, or that might have to be allowed. It was not until February, 1924, just when this Government had entered upon office, that the final Report was made and the expression was used to which I have referred, namely, a dividend which was all that was available to meet those obligations. I do not propose for a moment to condemn this Government for anything they have done in the past, because I think, having regard to the size of the amount which might be required to discharge the obligations, from February to the beginning of July is not too long a time to enable them to look into the matter. I do not criticise the Government for anything they failed to do, or might have been expected to do in the past. But I think I am entitled to say this: that if the Government now announce their intention to do nothing they will be exposing themselves to the justifiable criticism which, I am sure, will come from every quarter of the House.
May I also make it plain that the sum of £5,000,000 was never intended, so far as I know, to be a final apportionment and liquidation of the claims of these people by the nation. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why was it fixed"?] Why was it fixed? I will explain why. Remember the intention was to secure the payment of these claims by means of the Reparation Clause in the Versailles Treaty. [Interruption.] No doubt, hon. Mem- 2609 bers opposite foresaw everything that was likely to happen better than the most of us; but at any rate in was expected that the money would come out of Germany; and, in the words of the Commission, the Fund of £5,000,000 was one provided by the taxpayer to alleviate in some measure the delay in payment of the Treaty reparation. It was never intended to be final. It was intended to be an advance by the taxpayer for the alleviation of the distress which was caused by the delay in the payment of the Treaty reparation by Germany. The position to-day is that we may or may not get this reparation. I am not able to follow the comings and goings which are intended to lead to the happy day when this reparation will be paid. In this matter I follow the Prime Minister's movements with hope, and undying faith. But whether or not we get the reparation, the time has come when these people who are entitled to it should have something more than payment on account to alleviate their distress.
The position of these people has been mentioned from all parts of the House. Whether they were people who saw their houses destroyed by the invaders of the air, or whether they were men who by their dogged heroism saved this country literally from starvation, they have proved up to the hilt the claims which they preferred before the Commission. They have made their claims. They have proved their claims. We recognise their right to have their claims paid in full What stands between them and the liquidation of their claims? The absence of money. Is that really the way in which we can afford to treat the people who have claims of this character upon us? They have added an illustrious page to the history of the British race. The only blot upon this page of our history will be that while their name is immortal their services to this country are largely unrequited. Some of them have crossed from time and place to a land where we cannot discharge our debt to them. To those who live and want we owe a debt which I can describe as no less if no more than a debt of honour which any honourable man would desire to discharge.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. William Graham)
The task of the Financial Secretary to 2610 the Treasury in any Government is always difficult, but it is excessively difficult to-night because we are dealing with a subject which commends itself to the sympathy of every hon. Member of this House. If all I could do was to indicate that nothing had been done in this connection, or that the little which has been done fell very short of the duty we owe to the sufferers, the case would be desperate indeed. Notwithstanding everything that has been said about the sufferings during the War, with which we all sympathise, I am bound to tell the House there is another side to this case, and it is that other side which briefly I propose to try to put before the Committee.
It takes us back to the Treaty of Versailles, and, as hon. Members have indicated, it is true that under certain Clauses of that Treaty provision is made that compensation will be paid on very generous lines in respect of suffering by reason of enemy action during the War. Let me make it perfectly plain at onceߞand this goes to the root of a large part of the discussion which has taken place—that anything under these Clauses of the Treaty is really an obligation due by one State to another, and I do not think any hon. Member could make out the case that something attributable to another State should be allocated to any particular section of the community. That is a point which we are bound to emphasise in answer to the argument that leads many hon. Members to suggest that somehow or other Germany is going to escape her obligations in this connection.
I do not think that question can arise. Any arrangement we make, any proposal of a domestic character, cannot have any real effect upon the reparation settlement one way or the other as a settlement due to this country. I entirely agree that there has been a good deal of understandable misapprehension on this question. Certain phrases in the announcement made in the House in 1920 seem to have led some Members to believe that individual people in the community would have some particular right. I frankly agree that statements were made during the lifetime of the Coalition Government that large reparations would be forthcoming, and that handsome treatment would be accorded to everyone who had suffered by the War. Without im- 2611 porting any party bias into this one way or the other, I think the Committee will agree that many of us, on these benches, at any rate, never indulged in any such extravagant hopes, and we were strongly criticised at the time for writing down reparations as an economic proposition. The situation became perfectly plain to everyone familiar with the problem. The payment of reparations was going to be, at the best, a slow process, and in 1920 an announcement was made in the House by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. A. Chamberlain), who was then, I think, Chancellor of the Exchequer, that, having regard to the delay and the undoubted suffering of these people, the Government would provide,ex gratia—that phrase was emphasized—a sum of £5,000,000 against any payment that might come in, that a Royal Commission would be appointed to examine and investigate the claims, and that that amount would be used in dealing with the cases of hardship, which had, of course, a particularly strong claim.
All along there never was the least doubt that that was a purely ex gratia allowance, and, in all the Debates that have taken place, hon. Members have never suggested that there was a legal claim, because, of course, that would be to invade an accepted principle in reparation claims. The Royal Commission began its work, and I need not occupy the time of the Committee in paying a further tribute to the manner in which it has discharged its duty. It was confronted with a task of extraordinary difficulty. The claims were assessed by the London Chamber of Commerce and other bodies at sums as high as £50,000,000, but, after the closest investigation by what was really an expert tribunal, those claims were reduced to £12,500,000. Everyone knows what happens in circumstances of the kind that I am now trying to describe. There are the people who have suffered by the War, and, with every desire to be honest, they naturally exaggerate the losses which they have sustained. Those losses were exposed to the test of this tribunal, and the sum which I have mentioned was fixed.
2612 Suppose that we pass to the other side of the case, and admit for a moment that the sufferers had some kind of legal claim. Suppose, if the Committee likes, that I put them in the position of people who had a right to the first payments from reparations by Germany in proportion to the loss that they had sustained; and for this purpose we are quite willing to take the figure of £6,600,000,000. Our share of that would have been 22 per cent., or £1,452,000,000, which may for the present purpose be taken as representing the aggregate damage sustained by Great Britain. Putting the claims of these people at the £12,500,000 fixed by the Royal Commission, after all its expert advice, it is perfectly clear that that is less than 1 per cent. of the £1,452,000,000 fixed as our share. Consequently, if we take £15,000,000 as the sum we have received so far in reparations, the position appears plainly to be this, that, up to date, on the present receipts of reparations, the sufferers whom we have more particularly in mind to-night, representing only about 1 per cent. of the damage, would be entitled to about £150,000. That would be their strict legal position under the reparation settlement. And, moreover, that would be their position if we put the reparation claim as high as £6,600,000,000 on the agreement or understanding that was then made. I have brought out these facts in order to take the Committee back to the bedrock position in this country, and they enable me to say that even if they were put upon a strictly legal basis, if we might so describe it, they have, in fact, got, not £150,000, but £5,300,000 provided by the taxpayers of Great Britain.
Reference has been made to the argument which has been employed that it is no use suggesting that these people should have insured, but, after all, surely it is a, perfectly fair point to put. There was widespread advertisement. There was wide appeal by the Government at the time that insurance should be effected. I quite agree that very large numbers of the small people, particularly, had not very much chance to come into contact with the advertisements and, probably, were not familiar with insurance. But if hon. Members take that view of the small people who are affected, the Royal Commission has, in fact, covered the whole of the claims of the people in that position. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] 2613 By small people I mean the small people whose claims were assessed at up to £250 and who got the full assessment. I think that is a perfectly fair point to put. I know, of course, that hon. Members will include in that category a large number of others, but, after all, there was £5,000,000 provided and the Royal Commission had to scale it down to something which would work out equitably in practice.
§ Sir JOHN MARRIOTT
May I call the hon. Gentleman's attention to this notice, which was officially issued in 1916—Owners of property in the United Kingdom of an aggregate value not exceeding £500 will be compensated by the Government in respect of damage or destruction of any such property by the perils coverable by the Government aircraft and bombardment insurance policy whether the property be insured under the Government insurance scheme or not.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
I have no doubt that was one of the circulars issued at the time, but I still maintain that after all there was very widespread notice to insure and that if people did not insure they took the risk.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
In reply to that, I would suggest that if they got the full £250 a very large proportion of their cases must have been covered. There is another point which I am afraid has been overlooked by many hon. Members Reference has been made to the undoubted hardship of large numbers of people in the mercantile marine. Under the War Risks Compensation scheme a sum of many millions has already been paid, and if the capital value of pensions is taken into account not less than £11,000,000 will be provided for sufferers under that head. I am afraid many hon. Members have quite forgotten that argument in making the case against the £5,300,000 ex gratia allowances which we are more immediately discussing.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) made two points with which I propose to deal. He said the Government of the day in arranging that ex gratia payment were not in possession of all the facts. At a very much later date Ministers on this 2614 Bench representing the Government of the day, that is before we came into office, said repeatedly that this was the final alowance or allocation. That statement was definitely and clearly made, and I could, if necessary, turn up the references in the OFFICIAL REPORT in order to put the matter beyond doubt. By Chancellors of the Exchequer within recent times, that was regarded as the limit to which the Government could go. We improved on that. We recognised, to some extent, the difficulty of belated claims, and we agreed to provide, not very long after we came into office, this additional sum of £300,000, which is now the subject of assessment.
There is another point, regarding the position of people in Belgium and France. These people took the risk of the ordinary establishment of business in that country. It is true that they have not been compensated on the scale which the French Government have adopted in compensating their own people, but the Committee will admit at once that what has been done in France has, in all probability, been done under conditions widely different from the conditions which prevail in Great Britain. During the War, the Government of France did not do nearly so much for the people who were likely to suffer by war damage as we did. That being so, it seems not unreasonable to suggest that any post-War settlement in France would probably be more generous than was likely to obtain in this country.
I have heard the French settlement criticised as being extravagant. There is not the least doubt that they have borrowed to meet the claims. They have imposed a very heavy burden upon other taxpayers for that purpose, but that is a consideration with which we are not immediately concerned to-night. The first fact to be borne in mind is that the French Government did not do so much for their people during the War, compared with the war risk compensation and other schemes which we had in force. That, no doubt, goes a long way to explain the provision that they have made now. As regards the other point, the Royal Commission in its second Report have made it plain that they cannot give people outside this country treatment different from that which was being accorded to people within. Accordingly, they agreed to put the two classes of 2615 sufferers outside this country and within this country on the same basis. For my part, I do not see how any other scheme could have been adopted.
There remain only one or two points which I should like to put to the Committee. I do not think that it can be suggested that in all the circumstances the provision of £5,300,000 has been unsatisfactory. [How. MEMBERS: "Yes!"] At any rate, when hon. Members get into the sphere of moral claims—and, after all, that is very largely the case which is being made to night—every member of the community has a moral claim of some kind. A very large sum can be claimed under a head of that kind. I feel very strongly that, in so far as we are called upon ex gratia to recognise the sufferings of these people, up to the present time we have taken, on the whole, a generous line. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] The story is not closed. The Committee knows that this £300,000 is still the subject of inquiry. The claims that have been received will be duly assessed, and in due course payment will be made, and I suggest that in that event it is premature to press the Government further, until we see how far the £300,000 will go as regards the belated claims.
On the last point hon. Members have pressed me to make a statement to-night, which, I think, on reflection no hon. Member would, in the last resort, expect me to make at all. In other words, they have said, will the Government give a guarantee that out of the payments of reparation, which are still to be made by Germany, they will set aside large sums for the relief of the sufferers whose case we have under discussion. It is plain that I could not give any undertaking of that kind. If I did, quite clearly, I would contradict what I have already stated, that this is really a claim from one country against another, and, further, that it would be impossible to say anything of a definite character, because there will be a discussion on reparation in this House, and, of course, there will be further discussion, and, we all hope, agreement elsewhere. What is to be done, either as regards particular sufferers, because of enemy action during the War, or as regards the use of reparations as a whole, I cannot say at the time, but I 2616 do say that, first of all, we have under assessment the £300,000 of belated claims, together with such money as still falls to be paid out of the orginal £5,000,000, and there is the whole wider problem of reparations settlement under the adoption of the Dawes Committee Report, of whatever the agreement may be.
§ Lord APSLEY
Will the hon. Gentleman tell the Committee and those claimants whether the £300,000 is going to be final, and that they will not get any more, or whether there is a possibility of getting further payments?
§ Mr. GRAHAM
We have indicated over and over again at this Box that, so far as we are concerned, we cannot pay a larger sum. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, after a very full consideration of all the circumstances, stated that we cannot go beyond this sum.
§ Sir JOHN PENNEFATHER
In that case, what does the hon. Gentleman mean by saying that each of these claims must be duly assessed?
§ Mr. GRAHAM
We are dealing now with belated claims and that is why under this procedure, now that all the claims have been received, there will be fixed a scale which the belated claimant will be entitled to obtain.
§ Sir J. PENNEFATHER
Does not "duly assessed" mean that each claim will be considered on its merits, and a proper sum paid in respect of it?
§ Mr. GRAHAM
Each claim will be considered on its merits, but we have got to fix a scale of payment within the limits of the £300,000. That is obvious. For my part I would like to be able to make some other kind of statement to the Committee. The Committee is apt to import into this Debate a perfectly natural sympathy with the sufferers. Against that may I point out that in making a provision for £5,300,000 a great deal has been done, and I am afraid that there is no possibility of going beyond that on the present occasion.
Lieut.-Colonel Sir F. HALL
I am afraid that the Committee has heard the Financial Secretary with feelings of dismay. I think that he made to my hon. Friend below the Gangway a definite statement that all hope of any increase 2617 on the £300,000 is to be dispelled. I am one of those who believe that the Government of this country, whatever Government it may be, has never treated these people in a generous manner. It is not a question of the Coalition Government or the Unionist Government or the Labour Government. I am under the impression that very often moral claims should take precedence of what may be called legal claims, and that they should be dealt with much more liberally than on the basis of the payment of the last penny which is permitted by the law. An hon. Member opposite stated that it was the duty of the Government to pay the whole of the claimants, whether they were insured or not. I join issue with him at once. It may be known that for many years I have been connected with insurance matters. If the premium is paid it is the duty of the insurance company or the underwriter to bear the responsibility, and not to expect any reparation of any Government. But, as was said by the hon. Member for York (Sir J. Marriott), the Government in 1916 issued a statement, after many discussions in this House, and after an increase in aircraft activities, that they would bear the first claim for any damage up to, not £250, as was stated by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, but up to £500.
The Government have not carried out that obligation. It is all very well to say that certain people did not make their claims in due time. These people did not know the regulations with which they had to comply. It was just the same in the matter of the claims that were sent in under the Corn Production Act. They did not say that they would not recognise the claims unless they were sent in by a certain date. The Government should not act in this niggardly manner, and say merely: "We are going to add £300,000 to the payments and no more." I would like to say a word with regard to our mariners. We all know the enormous difficulty and dangers by which these people were faced. We know that their just claims have not been met, and if there is only £300,000 available they cannot be met. I hope that under pressure that amount will be increased. I trust that the Government will give particular attention to the claims that were referred to by an hon. Member opposite who made an excellent maiden speech to-night, and 2618 that they will undertake to meet those claims in full, and that thus some good will have come out of this discussion to-night.
Sir COURTENAY MANSELL
Mr. Harmsworth said he made his remarks in no hostility to the Government. If the Government reject this appeal I shall never again give them support or any other Government that would do it. Will this great country be deceived by this iniquitous transaction? You have received tons and tons of shipping for British ships sunk and yet you have allowed these poor men to live in indigence and go through the worst of experiences, that of disappointed hope. We cannot realise the months growing into years of waiting and hoping that each conference would make a just settlement, those hopes dwindling down to miserable postcards acknowledging the receipt of their communications. I know the case of an old man who invested the whole proceedings of his life savings in a schooner that has been sunk and lost. All compensation has been refused him on the ground that he should have been his own insurer. His own insurer against the risk of a world war! That is not a just proposition. St. Paul was proud to claim to be a Roman citizen. Will it be possible after this, if this just claim is ignored, for an Englishman to boast that he is an Englishman. Of all the loss this country has sustained there would be no greater loss than the loss of our good name. I appeal to the Government to act justly and do justice in this case.
§ Mr. HUDSON
I am sorry to find both from the right hon. Gentleman and from others who have taken part in the Debate including the last speaker that there is still a considerable attempt being made to place the responsibility for this question on payments that can be extracted from the late enemy. I think really what is now taking place is that the country generally is having to learn—and perhaps included with them are Members of the apposite benches—that although there is a claim to be made for the people we have discussed to-night that they should have much more than the Government is able to give them, they are only a part, a small part of a very large number of people in this country whose returns would be considerably augmented if justice were being done. One hon. Member 2619 has been speaking about this being a moral claim and suggesting that it should stand before a legal claim. I would suggest to the hon. Member that a greater moral claim might have been made against those who did their best to have men conscripted during the War and after the War used all the power they possessed——
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member must be allowed to proceed a little further before I can answer that question.
§ Mr. HUDSON
A claim has been put forward to-night that payment should be made under this head on the ground of this being a moral claim, and therefore possessing more importance than any other claim, legal or otherwise. I was suggesting that the most important moral claim that could be put forward was to provide the money whereby the claims now being considered could be met. I want to suggest that there should be a levy upon wealth, and especially war wealth, and that would give hon. Members opposite better grounds for asking the Treasury that a considerable increase should be made in the sum granted to meet these claims. The sum already granted I would call comparatively generous. We are all anxiously hopeful that the Prime Minister will be able in his present effort to collect reparations, and thus do something to meet these cases, but I want to remind hon. Members who were misleading the country with regard to reparations three or four years ago that these promises often turn to ashes and Dead Sea fruit, as they did when the promise to make the Germans pay failed utterly of fulfilment.
§ Sir R. HORNE
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put,"but the Deputy-Chairman withheld his assent and declined then to put that Question.
§ Mr. HARMSWORTH
rose in his place and claimed to move,"That the Question he now put,"but the Deputy-Chairman withheld his assent and declined then to put that Question.
§ Mr. HARMSWORTH
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put, "but the Deputy-Chairman withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.