HC Deb 19 July 1926 vol 198 cc894-6
63. Sir F. WISE

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer how the sum of £53,500,000, a non-interest-bearing debt in the French War Debt Agreement, is made up?


This is the equivalent of the gold transferred to this country by France in 1916 and 1917 against the advances made to France by His Majesty's Government under the Calais Agreement of 24th August, 1916.


Is this gold actually now in the country?


The gold is now in the vaults of the banks in the United States.


asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether the sum of £53,500,000, a non-interest-bearing debt of France to Great Britain, is held by the British Government in gold in London, or whether the whole or any part of this gold is now in New York or elsewhere; and whether it is included in the £180,000,000 of gold reserve of this country?


The gold in question was sent to America during the War. It is not and never has been in the gold reserves of this country.


asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, under the arrangement of 12th July, 1926, the failure of Germany to transfer receipts under the Dawes plan to the French account would be regarded as cancelling an equivalent amount of the French debt to this country or postponing the repayment of an equivalent amount of the French debt to this country, or whether such default would lead to the reopening of the whole question of French indebtedness to the British Government?


I would refer the right hon. Gentleman to the text of the correspondence presented to the House and to the statement which I made on the 13th July in answer to a question by the right hon. Member for Colne Valley. It will be seen that in the event of a substantial failure of German receipts, we have recognised the right of the French Government to ask for a reconsideration of the debt settlement in the light of all the circumstances then prevailing, but that the result of such reconsideration is in no way prejudged, and we are not committed to the cancellation or postponement of an equivalent proportion of the French payments. Indeed I am not sure what "an equivalent amount" would mean in such circumstances.

I may add that the wording of these letters was very carefully considered, as the House will readily believe. I do not expect it could be improved upon by any explanation which I may endeavour to give in the course of the Debate or at Question Time. Indeed, I think it right, as I have given an answer on the subject, and have had supplementary questions put to me before, to place on record the view of His Majesty's Government that nothing that may be said in this House in Debate will be held to be capable of being read in connection with the wording of the letters or in any way to alter the interpretation put on the letters should this contingency ever arise. It would be very undesirable that all sorts of statements should be made about the meaning of the letters, and afterwards it should be held that that should imply some alteration in the text of the letters themselves. The letters stand, and will not be altered or affected by anything that may be said by Ministers on them.

Captain BENN

If the letters are being interpreted in an opposite sense in the two countries, is it not to be permitted to ask the author of one of the letters to explain what it means?


I think so, and the procedure I have suggested would meet that. The Minister might be asked for an explanation and he might reply. I am only making it clear that that explanation will not affect the meaning of the letter, whatever it may be found to be, should the time come when it has to be interpreted.


asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer in what way and in what form the sum of £4,500,000, due in 1926–27, the sum of £6,000,000 due in 1927–28, and further payments in future years, from the French Government under the agreement of 12th July, 1926, is to be transferred from the French to the British Government in London?


As stated in Article I of the Agreement, payment will be made in sterling at the Bank of England half yearly. The French Government will have to provide the necessary sterling in the same way as they and other Governments have to provide for any other international payments for which they are liable.