HC Deb 12 May 1924 vol 173 cc978-1005

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £5,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1925, for a Grant-in-Aid of the Expenses of the League of Nations and for other Expenses in connection therewith, including British Representation before the Permanent Court of International Justice; also for a Grant-in-Aid of Relief of Distress in Albania.


In January last our attention was drawn by His Majesty's Minister at Durazzo to the famine conditions in Northern Albania. He suggested that a sum of about £20,000 might be adequate to meet this condition of affairs. His Majesty's Government were prepared, with the sanction of the Treasury, to give £5,000 provided the balance was made up by other members of the League. In March the Albanian Government made an appeal before the League of Nations Council, and the Council voted the sum of 50,000 Swiss francs from their Budget of 1924. At that time Lord Parmoor, representing the British Government on the League of Nations, said that if the Council considered that the League ought to respond to the appeal of Albania, His Majesty's Government would be prepared to take into consideration the giving of a sum not exceeding £5,000. Treasury sanction was finally given, and the Secretary of the League was informed by telegraph in April. Perhaps the Committee would like to know who the other contributors to this appeal were? Italy has contributed the sum of £5,100; Czechslovakia, £500; Spain, £300; the Rockfeller Institute, £2,300; the International Save the Children Fund, £600; the International Red Cross, £200; the Rumanian Red Cross, £10; and the League of Nations the £2,000 to which I have referred, all together rather over £11,000, excluding the contribution for which I am now asking the sanction of the Committee. May I say that Professor Pittard, of Geneva, has undertaken relief work, and he has already sent in a Report which shows that the funds at present at his disposal are inadequate. That is why we want at the earliest possible moment to get the sanction of this Committee for this £5,000, and I am sure for such an object as this I am not likely to appeal to the Committee in vain.


I agree that my hon. Friend need not make any lengthened appeal in regard to this Vote, but I am bound to say that, although there is not a large amount involved, it does appear to me that it is a very doubtful principle upon which the Government are proceeding, and I should have liked a little more explanation in regard to this matter. First of all, what I noticed from the list of subscribers which the Under Secretary has given is that we apparently are giving a larger amount than any other Government. There is also an omission which I thought was very significant. I did not notice that any sum at all is being given by the Government of the United States.


They are leaving that to their private organisations of charity.


That is where my objection comes in. If there is real widespread distress in Albania or anywhere else that may be a legitimate object for institutions like the Red Cross or any other private organisation to come forward and help, but that is a very different thing from the Government subscribing to a charity of this sort. I think the United States act on a sound principle when they leave such matters as these to their private organisers of charity. We have very good precedents for doing the same thing in this country, because time after time, when catastrophes have happened abroad, and when there has been evidence of real distress, there has never been any difficulty in organising a Mansion House subscription, which has always been most generously responded to by the charities of this country. That is a perfectly legitimate thing to do, but in this case, first of all, we have no evidence, except that the Under-Secretary says that the Foreign Office were so advised by our representative, as to the existence of distress, its intensity, and how widespread it is. We have no facts whatever on which we can pass this Vote except the statement of my hon. Friend that he has been advised that there has been distress in Albania.

Why do the Government come here for a Vote, whether large or small, merely to relieve distress about which we have no particular evidence? If we pass this Vote, I do not know upon what grounds the Government can resist appeals of a similar character on account of distress in this country. We have heard of great distress being suffered by the people in the Highlands and islands of Scotland, but there was no suggestion in this case that it was the duty of the Government to come forward with a grant. Why, in the name of everything that is reasonable, should the Government come to this House and ask for money for the relief of distress of this nature in a foreign country when we do not dream of doing it in our own country, where we leave it to the charity of private persons? I think this is really a very objectionable principle, and the only possible grounds upon which this House is likely to pass this proposal is on the plea that it is a very small sum.

I would like to point out that at the present time every £1,000 is a matter of vital importance to the taxpayers of this country. We are being asked to pass this Vote only on the ground that it is recommended by our representative on the League of Nations. Even on that ground I think there is some objection to it. It is a very important thing that the League of Nations should be a popular institution and that we should realise the great importance of its work, and whenever a considered recommendation is made to the Governments of Europe by the League of Nations it should be for some object about which there can be no cavilling. If this precedent is likely to be followed, if it gets to be known that the League of Nations acts as a sort of collecting agency for the charities of Europe, and that whenever they find distress anywhere all the League of Nations has to do is to say, "There is considerable distress in that particular part of the world, and we think it would be a very good thing if Governments would come forward and relieve that distress." I am certain there is nothing that could be done less likely to popularise the League and more likely to bring it into disrepute. For these reasons I am sorry the Government have adopted this course, instead of pointing out to the League that it is not within their function to propose charitable subscriptions of this sort. I wish to protest against this proposal, and if opposition to it is pressed to a Division, I shall certainly go into the Lobby against this Vote.


I am extremely sorry to hear this kind of criticism coming from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Canterbury (Mr. R. McNeill), who has just sat down, because, during the time that he was at the Foreign Office, he frequently took some official action in relieving distress in the Near East. There is nothing new in this particular action of the League of Nations, because one of the greatest features of the work of the League of Nations has been the relief of distress by the collective energies of the members of the League. Those who are familiar with the working of the League know that there is no genuine appeal for assistance which has ever been turned down, and in this particular case the facts were quite obviously before the League.

The right hon. Gentleman seemed to infer that the League had acted precipitately in this matter, that we had no information as to the distress, and that the question had not been adequately considered. Surely the right hon. Gentleman cannot have read the Report of the Council of the League, and when the facts are brought to his notice I feel sure that he will not oppose this Vote. It was stated at the meetings of the Council of the League that at least 200,000 persons in the Northern part of Albania were in a grave state of distress and destitution. The right hon. Gentleman knows better than anyone in this House at the present time that the troublous times in Albania have passed away. At one time armies passed through Northern Albania, and in the track of those armies there was destitution from which the people have never yet recovered. At a later stage there was trouble in those areas, and through the intervention of the Council of the League that trouble was averted and peace was restored. Nevertheless, the people have not recovered, and at a recent Council meeting of the League Lord Parmoor was appointed the rapporter upon the question of the condition of affairs in Northern Albania, and he represented that there was serious distress amounting to famine, and that a further sum of £15,000 would be required. This is all set out in full in the Report of the Council of the League.

We take some pride in having brought Albania to the position of a small sovereign State, which has now become a member of the League of Nations. For 500 years this little people, numbering more than one million, have been under the domination of the Turkish Empire, and they have at last been liberated from that yoke. The fact that they are to-day a sovereign State is primarily the work of Lord Cecil. The position was that the Commission of Geneva considered the future of Albania, and they were against the admission of that country into the League of Nations, and it was only through the efforts of Lord Cecil that Albania was, in the end, considered to be a fit and proper State to become a member of the League. Surely, under these circumstances, it is not too much to ask that we should now join with the other nations in providing this small sum with which to deal with famine and distress in Northern Albania.

There is one other point which has not been mentioned. The right hon. Gentleman said that the usual practice in this country was to get private individuals to assist in such cases as this. May I point out that private individuals in this country are assisting. I agree that this is an exceedingly difficult time to raise money, but private individuals have raised some £2,800 for this purpose, and that is as much as they could be expected to do. I hope this sum of money will be voted.


At a time when it is considered very difficult to get people to subscribe privately, does the hon. Member think we are justified in forcing Governments to contribute?


Private subscribers have done as much as they can to relieve this distress, and we are only asking that their efforts should be reinforced by those nations who are members of the League.

6.0 P.M.


The hon. Member who has just spoken might have carried his history of Albania a little further back to another Member of this House who certainly converted Lord Cecil, and was more responsible for the fact that Albania exists to-day—I refer to the late Aubrey Herbert, because it was through his extraordinary activities throughout Europe, and especially in this House, that Albanian national existence obtains to-day. I cannot refrain from giving my support to this particular Vote this afternoon on the individual case. I agree that we ought to be very careful as to how these perpetual grants of State money should in future be brought before the House, and as to how far our representatives at Geneva are to commit them- selves or Parliament—because it becomes almost a moral commitment—in making grants of this kind. I think my right hon. Friend will bear me out that last year, when the British Government joined in financing similar relief work in this part of the world under the supervision of Dr. Nansen, in connection with what are called the Denikin Russians—that is to say, those Russians who could not go back to Russia, for obvious political reasons, and who, owing to the organisation of the League, have been able to settle, some in Albania, some in Serbia, some in Bulgaria, and in the Balkan Peninsula, generally—that was financed by contributions from the States that are members of the League, and I am rather surprised that the Under-Secretary this afternoon has brought this forward as a single Supplementary Estimate for Albania only. I think it would be much better if, when we have a Supplementary Estimate for relief work under the auspices of the League of Nations, the Vote brought before the Committee all the relief works in which we are participating, not merely isolating one of them.

I understand that Dr. Nansen's work is still continuing, and that other States are participating in it. France only recently voted a further contribution for this purpose. If we are going to participate this year, I think that all these contributions ought to be brought together in one Supplementary Estimate. I think, also, that we should be very careful before we ask the Committee to assent to further commitments of this kind, because the burden falling upon the Exchequer of this country in recent years, over a very wide area, as compared with what is falling on other countries, is very great. After all, we had to bear enormous burdens for relief, particularly in Mesopotamia in connection with the Assyrians and the Armenians. I do not suggest for one moment that we are not right in helping these unfortunate disturbed peoples, but we have borne our share right nobly, and have done a great work. Not only have we done this, but our Colonies, like Cyprus, Malta and so on, have done so as well, and, out of their Colonial Budgets, have taken a great share in providing for relief for these unfortunate peoples in the Near East. We should, therefore, make it quite clear at Geneva that, while Britain has played her part, and is willing to play her part, she wants loyal co-operation from the other members of the League. It would be much better if we could have this Estimate included in the annual League Budget, which we vote in the annual League Estimate when we are making our annual contribution to all the League purposes, and when the Secretary of State or the Under-Secretary would defend it in Committee of the House of Commons. It would then be known exactly how much we are spending on all League purposes.

This is a comparatively small amount, considering the enormous range of activities of the League, but I agree that we do not want to give critics any occasion for saying that the League is merely a means of getting money cut of the British taxpayer, while other people are not paying. We do not want to give any handle by which people can bring forward that argument, and that is why I think it would be much better if all these various sums were brought forward in a proper Schedule, so that the country might know exactly what is being asked of it, whether for the Nansen Relief Fund, for the Greek refugees, or for other similar purposes. If the whole thing were thus set clearly before the Committee from time to time, it would be much more satisfactory. We should know where we were, and should be able to criticise on the various heads. I entirely agree, having read what I have read, that, particularly on the Montenegrin frontier, there has been for a long period of years the greatest unsettlement and political uncertainty. Montenegro, of course, has been completely swallowed, but there remains the Albanian population, and there has been, undoubtedly, friction between Albania and her big new neighbour on the north, Yugo-Slavia. That, among other things, has made matters particularly difficult for this very new nation. Albania has hardly got on its feet yet, and, very largely, as I have said, because of the memory of the late Member for Yeovil, I should like to support this Vote.

Lieut.-Colonel LAMBERT WARD

I am sure we all sympathise most deeply with this new nation of Albania in the distress which is falling upon it, and with the efforts which the League of Nations is making to mitigate that distress. At the same time, I do not think we have been given sufficient information in regard to very vital particulars in this Estimate. For example, we are told that the minimum sum required will be £15,000, and that approximately £11,000 has been promised. This Supplementary Estimate is for £5,000, which is a very large percentage of the £15,000 required. I think I am right in saying that there are between 45 and 50 nations who are members of the League of Nations, and I think we are entitled to know, or, at any rate, we are entitled to ask, what the other nations are doing with respect to this distress, which concerns them just as much as it concerns us. It must concern everyone. If we are contributing £5,000, and there are 45 other nations, to what extent, and in what respect, are they helping?

The taxpayers of this country cannot carry on their shoulders the whole of this burden, and we must, at any rate, have help from the other nations. It is not as though everything in this country were booming and prosperous, as in, say, 1919 or 1920. We have a great deal of distress at home, which makes it necessary that we should scrutinise these Estimates very carefully when they are put before us, for fear of drying up the springs of charity at home. With a few minor alterations in wording, the note appended to this Estimate might be made to apply to the distress which at present exists in the Western Islands of Scotland. There, as everyone knows, the distress is acute and is due to exactly the same cause as this distress in Albania, namely, that Urgent need exists owing to famine in the .… districts following .… successive bad harvests. That state of affairs exists in the Western Islands of Scotland, and I think we are entitled to ask what the Government are doing to mitigate the distress there. They are asking us to vote £5,000 for the relief of distress in Albania, while they are, apparently, doing nothing, or very little, to mitigate the distress which at present exists amongst our own kith and kin. Perhaps I am rather insular in my ideas, but I think that distress amongst our own kith and kin ought to take the prior place when we are appealed to for charity. Although I sympathise with the Government, it seems to me that this is not so much a case for a Supplementary Estimate as for a Mansion House Fund. The Lord Mayor of London is always ready to open relief funds for distress, and I, for one, think that that would be a more suitable way, particularly in view of all the unrelieved distress and misery existing in the Northern part of these islands of our own at the present time.


I should like to ask the Under-Secretary whether he is going to make a reply to the speech which we have just heard? I think it is fair to put before the Committee, before this money is voted, the question whether other nations are making proper and reasonable contributions before we have to do so ourselves. That does not seem to me to be an unfair attitude, or by any means an unsympathetic one towards the objects of the League itself. Every Member of the House could point to cases of distress in his own constituency, and we might very well say that this money could be used in, say, Woolwich or Greenwich or any other part of the country. I am not making any special claim of that kind, but certainly there should be some explanation from the Government as to why this particular grant should be made, and, particularly, whether we are being treated fairly so far as our contribution is concerned. I should not like to assert that other nations are not making equal and proper contributions, although it has been represented to me, I do not know with what accuracy, that a large number of nations are not paying their contributions to the League of Nations. If that be so, I think we should be told, and I think the Under-Secretary this afternoon ought to tell us, how the exact proportion has been worked out, why it is that we have to make this particular contribution, and whether or not we shall have to pay before the other nations pay.

As far as I remember, we have agreed on various occasions to make our contribution to efforts of this sort, and so have other nations; but in certain cases I believe to this day their contributions have not been paid, while we have paid ours. I may be wrong in that, and I should like the Under-Secretary to tell us. I could point, if he wished, as I dare say other Members could point, to very many cases of great distress and of people living under terrible conditions to-day, and, while I should be anxious to help every other country, or every section of every other community in the world, out of its difficulties and miseries, I do think there is something to be said for the view that, before we begin to do that, we have to look after our own country and our own affairs. Without wishing to say anything whatever against the League of Nations, or anything that it may be doing, I think we must ask for some reply from the Under-Secretary on that point, and also as to how the contribution is arrived at, and whether, when we made this arrangement with other nations, it has been honourably and properly kept. If it is the case, as I have been told, that we made these arrangements and no one else pays—perhaps that is an exaggeration, but some do not pay—we ought to be told before we make a fresh arrangement of this kind, and it is with the hope that we shall hear exactly what the position is that I put these questions.


I wish to associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member who mentioned distress in the Highlands, but there is also the question of assisting the Scottish fishermen in some way. If the Government can afford to make a grant of £5,000 towards relieving distress in Albania, on what ground is it that no assistance is offered to the Scottish fishermen?


I cannot allow the hon. and gallant Gentleman to discuss the Scottish case. He can only just remark on it in passing. He cannot discuss it in any way on this Vote.


Will not my hon. and gallant Friend be in order in contrasting the treatment which is meted out to the Scottish fishermen with the treatment the Government propose to give to the people of Albania?


I have already said it is in order to remark on that in passing, but he cannot ask the Government the reason why they do not give relief to the Scottish fishermen.


In order to make the contrast, would not my hon. and gallant Friend be in order in saying what is the treatment which the Government have given to Scottish fishermen?


I have already dealt with that point, I think quite effectually.


I am anxious to find out how these things are arranged. I am of opinion that if the British Government can afford to make these grants to foreign countries all over the world, it can also afford to give some form of assistance to the very urgent distress within our own shores. The remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stafford rather led me to think this House is likely to be inundated with Supplementary Estimates in the future for the relief of distress abroad. I do not in the least wish to deprive foreign peoples of any assistance which we can afford to give them. I am extremely sorry for the Albanians and for the other people to whom he referred, but I am very strongly of the opinion that charity should begin at home. I have not the least doubt, if I may touch on the subject of the fishermen again, that the reason why the Secretary for Scotland has been unable to assist them is because the Chancellor of the Exchequer told him he has no money to spare, and if that is the case, I want to know how it is that he can give £5,000 to the distressed Albanians?


I want to emphasise two or three points which have been put to the hon. Gentleman, not with regard to the proposal which is brought before the Committee on its merits, but rather more with a view to ensuring, both in this and in other cases, that the relief which is promised will be effectively supplied by all those countries which become parties to these arrangements. There have been under successive Governments a number of cases where different countries, including this country, have promised assistance of one kind or another under arrangements made by the League of Nations or outside it, but when it came to collecting the funds which were to be distributed to the recipients of this bounty, this country supplied the money, and funds from other countries were singularly unforthcoming. With that experience before us, I think it is all the more necessary to make sure what are the terms on which we give our promise, and that for two reasons. I quite agree that it is a very necessary function of the League of Nations to meet, in so far as its constituent countries are able to do so, cases of distress, but it is also a function of the League of Nations to see that the burden is borne according to the capacity to bear it, and in the interests of the distressed people themselves it is most important that this charity should not simply appear by names on the paper, but, if I may use a commercial metaphor, that those who underwrite these proposals should underwrite them firmly. I know that in many cases there have been subscriptions promised which have not been fulfilled. In this case, as far as I could appreciate it, there are only three Governments which have undertaken to find anything towards this relief apart from ourselves—Italy, Czechslovakia and Spain, there is a certain sum of money coming from the Rockefeller Institute and something from the Red Cross. It was not very clear whether that constituted the £11,000 and whether our sum was included.


indicated dissent.


Our sum is not included. If there are only three Governments at present coming in I should have thought there ought to be more, and the line which should be taken by our representative at the League of Nations, both in the interests of this country and in the interests of collecting as much as possible from other countries, should be to say "the total amount that is required is so much." I do not cavil at the figure of £15,000. If the amount is £15,000 Great Britain should say, "provided other countries are prepared not only to promise but to pay, Great Britain will, in proportion as they make their payment, pay whatever is a reasonable quota for this country—say £4,000." That, I think, is right from the point of view of this country and is directly in the interest of those who are to benefit by the relief, and it is a businesslike way for our representative on the League of Nations and for the League itself. One criticism which is advanced very often, quite wrongly I think, against the League is that it is not sufficiently businesslike in the way it approaches its problems. It is this kind of thing which people get hold of which gives rise to that criticism. I ask the Under-Secretary to give us an assurance that we assent to these proposals on the assumption that other nations provide the money which is necessary to make up whatever is the required total, and that this country will only actually find the cash pari passu with other nations paying up their contributions.


I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £1,000.

This Supplementary Estimate, at first sight appears a very innocent and small item, but the more I examine it the more amazed I am that it should appear on the Paper, at any rate, at this particular time. If one studies the footnote, which is by far the most important information given in the Paper, one finds that, up to the present, £11,000 has been promised by other Governments. Surely it would be time enough to introduce this Supplementary Vote when we have some evidence laid before us that other Governments have not only promised, but have taken steps to put a Vote before their respective legislative assemblies and make sure of having these sums paid. That is all the more important in view of the fact that, up to date, Great Britain has borne the greater portion of the financial burden in supporting the League of Nations. Surely it is time to call a halt and not to go on standing the major portion of the expenditure without some further and more satisfactory explanation than we have had.

There is another point I should like to call attention to. The expenditure out of the Grant-in-Aid will not be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor-General, nor will any unexpended balance of the sums issued be liable to surrender at the end of the financial year. That in itself is a little unusual, but I am not surprised that the Department should take the precaution of putting that note on the Paper except for the fact that a minimum amount is estimated to be required, namely £15,000, of which £11,000 has been promised. Surely the maximum that we should be asked to contribute under any circumstances would be £4,000. Surely it is entirely out of place to ask us to-day to pass a Vote of £5,000 which, added to the amount guaranteed by other countries, makes £16,000, or £1,000 in excess of the minimum which they themselves say is necessary. Taken in conjunction with the footnote that they are not bound to account for any unexpended surplus, in other words that if there is an unexpended surplus of £1,000 taken from Great Britain in excess of the minimum estimate they themselves have put forward, they are not bound to account for it, it is an absurd proposal.


I have no wish to oppose this Vote, if only for the reason given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford, in memory of Major Aubrey Herbert, but I wish to ask the hon. Gentleman if he can give us any guarantee that the money proposed to be spent will be effectively used, especially since we are bearing such a very large proportion in comparison with other nations. It is not only that we have to remedy the actual existing distress, which is very great indeed, but we must find some provision for the future, otherwise the League of Nations will be asking this country to contribute a like amount again. The only cause I have heard given was the War, and the only district mentioned was the northern part of Albania. Although the district round Scutari has been very much impoverished since the War—I was there a short time ago, and can bear testimony to that—the real distress is far deeper and the causes also are very much deeper. The valley of the Drin and through the mountains is where the actual starvation area really begins, and although the War was actually one of the causes, it was by no means the principal cause. Since the War that country has been occupied on two occasions by troops of a neighbouring Power. I have no wish to make any remarks which might be considered unfriendly towards a friendly Power, but that was the case. On the second occasion it was only on the urgent representations of the British Government that that Power withdrew her troops. In doing so, they carried off a considerable quantity of cattle, and they either burned or carried off a large quantity of corn. I do not wish to make any great capital on that point. I have sufficient experience of Balkan affairs to know that that is nothing unusual. The Albanians themselves, who are a fair-minded people, would be the first to assure me that if the boot had been on the other leg and a regular force of Albanians had been in occupation of a neighbouring country, and they had been compelled to retire, they would have thought it highly irregular not to take something away from that country.

It is none the less a fact that these unfortunate people are in a bad plight. They have been compared to the fishermen of Scotland, but I should say that the state of Albania at the present time is very much like the state of Scotland before the Union, or the state of Ireland at the present time. This particular district has been undoubtedly devastated on several occasions, and their cattle has been carried off, and their corn either carried off or destroyed. It is to replace their cattle and their corn that help is being given to them by the League of Nations, towards which we are asked to contribute. This is not an unsual thing for the Albanians. It has happened time after time in their history. The real cause of the trouble is that the boundary has been drawn on more or less ethnological lines. I have seen a good many boundaries drawn in Europe, and we are trying to draw a boundary in Ireland at the present time. It is very difficult to draw a boundary on ethnological lines, and to keep it on economic lines at the same time. That is the case in Albania. The boundary included several towns in the Jugo-Slav side which used to be the principal market towns of the Albanian Highlanders in the Dibra district. The boundary now places the town of Dibra itself on the Serbian side.

The trouble is that owing to the fiscal policy adopted by the Jugo-Slav Government, it is almost impossible for any of the Albanian highlanders to sell their goods over the Serbian frontier. I regret to say that there are large numbers of countries in Europe, including our own, who have not yet realised that on a good fiscal policy a good deal of the prosperity of the country depends, and they are rather inclined sometimes either to use the fiscal policy for party political purposes, or to use it as an additional arm of the Foreign Office with which to bludgeon their enemies. That is, I am afraid, the case in a good many cases in Central Europe at the present time, and particularly so in Albania. Either the League of Nations should request the Jugo-Slav Government to alter their fiscal tariff, and to allow goods to be sold by the Albanians in these markets, or until a fresh frontier can be drawn which includes the previous markets within Albanian territory, otherwise I am afraid the starvation in Albania will not be to any extent minimised by whatever grants we shall be able to give them. There is only one other alternative, and that is the creation of a road across the mountains, which will allow them to bring their goods to the West, but that will take a great deal of time and a large amount of money, which Albania cannot raise at the present time.

There is one other question, and that is the general development of Albania. So far, I have only dealt with the starvation area, but hinging upon that question is the general question of the development of Albania. If the League of Nations are going to take this matter up, and if we are going to contribute such a very generous share towards the League of Nations in taking up the question, it is only right that we should have some say in regard to it. Apart from the question of humanity, there are very important diplomatic questions involved. Albania is a buffer State at the present time. The condition of a buffer State at any time is not a very enviable one, and I do not think the position of Albania is very enviable for that reason.

Apart from that, there is the question of her development as a nation, and one of the first things which should be done is to take in hand the drainage of the low-lying country, particularly in the Central Tirana district, because this country is at present water-logged for a great part of the summer, and consequently full of malaria. Until the country is drained and malaria is cleared from the country, it will be very difficult for any energy to be got into the life of the lowlands. The highlands are clear, but the lowlands have displayed a remarkable lack of energy for the reason that they are full of malaria. On humanitarian grounds we should ask the League of Nations to give the Albanian Government some assistance towards getting on with the drainage as soon as possible.

Lastly, I think we are entitled to ask that the League of Nations should see that the Albanian Government are given a free choice, without any pressure being put upon them, as to what contracts they make for the development of their own country. At the present time there is terrific jealousy between not only the neighbours of Albania but other Powers, whose firms may like to take a hand in regard to this question. As an example, I may mention that a little over a year ago a very capable officer was engaged by the Albanian Government to act as adviser in the Interior, Colonel Stirling, who had a very fine record in the Sudan. No sooner had he got his appointment, independent of the League of Nations, than a great agitation was raised, and the Albanian Government was forced, through the representations of the League of Nations, to take on several other gentlemen of different nationalities to act as representatives in other capacities.

It was urged that as a Britisher had been appointed, an Italian, a Frenchman, a Belgian, a Dutchman, and so on, should be appointed. These gentlemen were appointed at large salaries, but, apparently, the Albanian Government found later that they could not possibly afford them. I think the Albanian Government should be given a free choice to do what they like. In the present state of affairs the only Power that is really developing Albania is Germany. Not being a member of the League, nobody can object to what Germany is doing, and she does what she likes. She has made several contracts, including a big timber clearing contract—


We are all interested in the speech of the Noble Lord, but, on a point of Order, I should like to know what it has to do with the Amendment we are discussing.


Surely it is in order to point out what are the conditions obtaining in Albania and how far we should insist upon these or other conditions being made effective in order that our relief may be applied in the best possible way.


We are not discussing the policy of Albania.


I think the Noble Lord was quite in order.


I have no wish to weary the Committee with long details My only point lay in this, that in giving relief to Albania, we should urge the Foreign Office to see that an effective guarantee is given, seeing that we are giving such a generous contribution in comparison with other nations, that we shall not be asked for a similar contribution in future. All that hinges not only on the present starvation of the country but on the future development of the country. I think a request should be made that the Albanian Government be given a free hand in the matter of the development of the country, and that she should be allowed to make contracts with whatever firms make offers and good tenders to develop their own country, and that there should be no pressure put upon them by one nation or another. Germany is the only nation that has made any headway as far as work is concerned in the development of the country. She has made a big contract in regard to timber, and, secondly, she is building a large aerodrome there, in connection with which they intend to run a passenger service from the North. Though I support the Vote very warmly, I do ask the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs to request that it shall be spent in such a way that we shall not be required to give a similar Vote in future.


I am sure that the Committee have listened with great interest to the well-informed speech of my Noble Friend the Member for Southampton (Lord Apsley). He is an expert on Albania, and I am sure that it would have done the heart of our friend the late Lieut.-Colonel Aubrey Herbert good to have realised that some other hon. Member of this House was continuing the work to which he paid so much attention. The Noble Lord I supported this Vote, as also did the hon Member for Stafford (Mr. Ormsby-Gore). I They were notable exceptions in a series of what I really must describe as deplorable speeches from the benches opposite If charity is going to be dispensed in this niggardly spirit, then I think we ought to be heartily ashamed of it. To suggest that in matters of charity, we should wait for example from other nations, or for promptings from other nations, is deplorable, and I hope Great Britain will do no such thing.

We are told that we ought not to give this sum of money unless we can be perfectly certain that everybody else is going to pay up. We must see that all who have made promises have paid their last shilling before we open our pocket. That is the sort of spirit that the British Government is asked to display in giving charity to these unfortunate people. These people have gone through unparalleled suffering. They have had three successive bad harvests; they have had floods and plagues of locusts and they have been in very dire need of assistance. We come to the Committee thinking that the Vote of this small sum, given for the purpose of helping these poor people in their distress, would be passed with acclamation, and we have these petty objections brought forward The leader in regard to this matter has been my right hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. R. McNeill). It is a serious matter, because although my right hon. Friend has not the actual responsibility now, he still has the aroma of responsibility about him. He was a very much distinguished member of a very much less distinguished Government, and he speaks now with some authority, and I must say that I am very much disappointed with the tone he adopted, and that his leadership has been associated to-day with the very deplorable series of speeches to which the Committee have listened.

The argument has been put forward time after time: why were we not assisting this object or some other object in this country or some other country? That is an argument that could be used without any limit, but the very example given by the right hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. R. McNeill) was, unfortunately, a false one, because he complained that we were not allocating anything for the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, and he seems to have forgotten that the Government have submitted an Estimate for £100,000 for seed potatoes, and other means of relieving distress in that part of the country. But when the League of Nations, after careful consideration, and after receiving full reports, have gone into this matter, and the small sum of £5,000 is asked for, it does not seem befitting for the Committee of the House of Commons to bring forward these petty objections. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] The hon. Member for Stafford said that he would like a grouping of Estimates of this character, so that they might be dealt with as a whole. I see the force of that argument, but this particular Estimate is the only one which we bring forward in reference to something done through the League of Nations.


Is it necessary to have a Supplementary Estimate continuing the grant which the late Government gave towards Dr. Nansen's work, or towards establishing Russian refugees in Constantinople in the different Balkan countries?


I am afraid that I cannot answer that question offhand, but I understand the point and will make inquiries. Other measures which are not being done through the League of Nations come under the ordinary Foreign Office Vote. I do not think that I need say anything more on this Vote. I feel that the great majority of the Committee are strongly in favour of this sum being voted, and it has been to me a matter of surprise and regret that there should be any opposition to the rapid passage of this Vote.


I did not intend to intervene again, but the hon. Gentleman has not in the least dealt with any of the arguments brought forward from this side. They were not arguments condemning relief in general or the work of the League of Nations or this particular form of relief. To put a specific point to him, he says that it requires £15,000 to give this relief and that certain other countries have promised to do something, and we are asked to vote £5,000, which is £1,000 more than the sum mentioned in the Estimate. Therefore, I would like to know why the sum asked for is £5,000 to make up the £15,000 and not £4,000 which, with the £11,000 already voted, would make up the £15,000? On various occasions sums of money are asked for and we are told that other countries have promised to do something. We do not in the least suggest in reference to this matter that this country should wait until the other countries have paid everything. What we ask is that we shall go forward with them pari passu. That means step by step with them. That is not only fair to the taxpayer of this country, but it is a means of insuring that you will not only get the £5,000 from this country but that you will get the whole of the £15,000.


Like a great many hon. Members, I have every possible sympathy with the requests to assist distressed communities, but the Under-Secretary has no right to come down here and suggest that it is not befitting for hon. Members to criticise or to make inquiries as to a particular grant when the League of Nations has recommended that that grant should be made. The Under-Secretary went out of his way to lecture the Committee, and though we are accustomed to hear hon. Members who occupy positions on the Front Bench utter testimonials as to the excellence of their own Government and their party, it is a little unbecoming of the hon. Gentleman to address slightly opprobious observations to my right hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. R. McNeill) and to describe in this matter his own Government as a more excellent one than the last. I would suggest to the hon. Member, inasmuch as he is a member of this Government, that it would be more befitting, to use his own language, on his part, to allow other people to blow his own trumpet. I would recommend the hon. Member to reply to the genuine inquiries which have been addressed to him.


You were not here.


I heard nearly all that was said.


I saw the hon. and learned Gentleman when he took his seat, and he certainly did not sit there during the whole of the discussion, but I apologise for not noticing that he was in a remote part of the House.


I was not in a remote part of the House. I heard all the speeches except the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Canterbury, and I was in the seat which I was occupying until I rose to address the Committee. I would suggest that when the League of Nations makes a request to this House to give a grant, we are entitled to know what the grant is, and the extent to which it is specially required to assist distressed communities who require our assistance, and if the hon. Member will give the information which is asked from this side, he will not only commend this particular grant, but will dispose the Committee on future occasions to give more attention to the requests and invitations of the League of Nations, because they will have reason to know from their past experience that those requests are based on good solid ground. I still hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to inform the Committee on some of those matters on which inquiries have been addressed to him by hon. Members who are in favour of giving this grant if adequate reasons are advanced.


In answer to the right hon. Member for Hendon (Sir P. Lloyd-Greame) in reference to the sum of £15,000 which he mentioned, I do not think that I mentioned that at all. His Majesty's Minister recommended an expenditure of £20,000. £11,000 has been promised by organisations and by other nations, and we had promised £5,000, making a total of £16,000 out of the £20,000 which His Majesty's Minister said would meet the case.


The hon. Gentleman does not deal with the other points which were raised. I would ask him why the Estimate says that the minimum amount estimated to be required is £15,000. Are we to understand that the Lord President of the Council held one view and the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Financial Secretary, who are responsible for Estimates, held another view, because I assume that the responsible figure is the figure given in the Estimates? The point that is raised on this side is that if we simply vote £5,000 to-day, and do not make any firm condition with regard to other countries, the probability is that £5,000 is what the Albanians will get, and £5,000 only. If on the other hand we give an undertaking that we shall pay out our share of the money in proportion as the other countries pay theirs, we shall be strengthening the hands of the League of Nations and shall be much more likely to get the sum desired. The Committee is not treating this Estimate in the least in a hostile way. The hon. Member should give the Committee the assurance which we ask for, or should state why he will not do so.


I did not move the Amendment in any hostile spirit, but it is not right to expect us to pass this Vote without more explanation than has been given. The explanation given is that the total sum, including the £11,000 promised by other countries, is £16,000 out of the total of £20,000. On the paper it is specically stated that the estimated amount required for this purpose is £15,000, of which £11,000 had already been promised, making a difference of £4,000, and the hon. Gentleman should explain why the Committee are asked to vote £1,000 more than the minimum amount stated on the paper. In the absence of that explanation, I feel that I must press the Amendment for a reduction.

7.0 P.M.


I beg to move, That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again. I have rather a divided mind on this matter. I know something about Albania. I have travelled in the country, and I know of the extreme poverty and should be sorry if they did not get the money, but it is a bad precedent that we should be always asked to make substantial contributions while others who are more directly interested are doing nothing. I gathered from the speech of the hon. Gentlemen—I was not present at the time—that he did not announce any contribution from the actual neighbours of Albania—Greece and Jugo-Slavia. That is, to say the least of it, disappointing, as in view of recent history it is rather up to them, in a case like this, to show that they intend to do some thing. I understand that they are contributing nothing. Can the right hon. Gentleman say that it is their intention to contribute anything? I gather that he cannot give any decided assurance on that point. Under the circumstances, attention ought to be called to this matter in some prominent way, and I think, accordingly, that the question for us had better be adjourned. I therefore move to report progress.


I rose a few minutes ago to continue the Debate. I have never heard, in the whole six years that I have been in the House, so discourteous and, I might say, rude an answer as that given by the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs. He has not given to this Committee the slightest reply either to my right hon. Friend the late President of the Board of Trade (Sir P. Lloyd-Greame) or my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Balfour) as to why this discrepancy of £1,000 has arisen. Are these the tactics which the Labour Government are going to apply in this House—the tactics of being deliberately discourteous to it, and not attempting by any means in their power to give a reasonable reply when criticisms are made; I might almost say, tactics of ill-temper when anybody presumes to rise and criticise or ask for explanations. I must say I am shocked that my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend have been treated in this discourteous way. It is quite apparent from this White Paper that this discrepancy of £1,000 has arisen and has not been explained away. I ask the hon. Gentleman to give some reasoned answer that anybody can understand, so that we can be assured. I am as anxious as anybody to give every possible encouragement to the League of Nations, but we find great difficulty, owing to the speech to which we have listened, in giving any support whatever. I believe that if the hon. Member will imitate the hon. Member who sits on his loft (Mr. W. Graham), who is always courteous and respectful to Members of the House, and is always ready to listen to what we have to say, he will shorten the Debate very considerably. I deplore, very considerably, the speech to which we have just listened.


I can assure hon. Members opposite that I intended no discourtesy whatever, and I very much regret that I have given that impression by the remarks that I made. I was somewhat surprised that the Estimate should have caused so much criticism, and I am only anxious to give all the information I possibly can to meet the questions which have been put to me. Perhaps I may say how this sum of money arose in order that the hon. Member who moved the Amendment may see how matters stand.


The question before the Committee is that I report progress. We had better get rid of that Motion first. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hope) proposes to insist on the Motion, but the hon. Member had better restrict himself to it.


I would ask the right hon. Gentleman who moved it to be good enough to withdraw it in order that we may get this Supplementary Estimate. I do not quite understand the reason for desiring to Report Progress. I am willing to give as much information as I can.


It would not be out of order for the hon. Gentleman to reply to my point. I asked if the immediate neighbours of Albania were contributing anything to this fund, and I suggested that we should not vote the money until the matter had been brought to their attention in some definite form. I submit that it would not be out of order for the hon. Gentleman to reply to that point which was the point on which I moved.


On a point of Order. If it be in order for a Minister on a Motion to Report Progress to refer to a specific point raised before that Motion was moved, is it not equally in order for the same Minister to reply to the same point raised by the hon. Member on the other side of the House who moved the Amendment? Both points seem to deal with the question of whether the whole of the financial responsibility of Albania in the League of Nations is to be borne by this country. Consequently, it seems to me that the question put by the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench opposite (Mr. Hope) as well as the terms of the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Balfour) are equally at stake in this question. If the Minister can reply to one question, it seems to me entirely apposite to reply to another.


Anything would be in order which answers the Motion to Report Progress. The right hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Hope) has said that he asked to move to Report Progress because he was not satisfied on this point. It will be in order to deal with it, but not with the specific point concerned with the Amendment which has been moved.


I took my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield (Mr. Hope) to say that the reason for wishing to Report Progress was that we should not vote this money until the neighbours of Albania had had an opportunity of considering whether they should subscribe, and that we should bring the matter to their notice. That necessarily involves Reporting Progress, and it is a condition which cannot be fulfilled before we vote to-night.


I do not understand that. I understand that he was asking for information on a certain point.


I understand the right hon. Gentleman asked whether Greece and Yugo-Slavia are contributing to this relief of Albania. The Greek Government have not so far expressed any intention to contribute. Only these Governments, the names of which I read out earlier, have done so. I do not think it would be exactly our duty to make the suggestion to them. We contributed on the understanding that certain sums would be made up by other nations and societies, and, on that being done, we promised our contribution. I think it would be outside our power to specify certain Governments and demand contributions from them.


Will the hon. Gentleman not undertake that if the sum is voted nothing will be paid until efforts have been made to obtain contributions from the countries named by the right hon. Gentleman?


I confess that I am not very well satisfied that the neighbours of Albania should not be contributing, but I understand that we have given a definite promise that we shall give so much if other sums are got from other sources. I will not persist in my Motion, but ask leave to withdraw.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Question again proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £4,000, be granted for the said Service."


I will explain how the matter stands. £20,000 was a rough estimate for this relief work; £15,000 is the sum estimated in the White Paper The contribution of His Majesty's Government is £5,000, which was given on the understanding that a certain sum should be found by other nations. The sums which I read out, and which I gave only approximately in the sterling equivalent, have been promised by those various nations. These have not materialised, and I am inclined to think that £15,000 will be insufficient to deal with relief work. I do not think that our £5,000 will reach sufficiently far even if the other contributions I have read out all come in.


The position to me is absolutely as clear as mud. The hon. Member could accept a reduction of £1,000, and, having accepted it, could come to this House again and ask for further money if he wanted it. I am quite sure the Committee is dissatisfied with the manner in which the hon. Gentleman has handled this question.


I cannot say that I am satisfied with the explanations which have been given, but on this side we have every desire to show the proper spirit, and we assume that on this occasion they know what they are doing, though they do not explain. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Original Question put, and agreed to.

Resolution to be reported To-morrow; Committee to sit again To-morrow.