§ 11.7 a.m.
§ The Chairman
I think it would be for the convenience of the Committee to discuss together the first two Amendments 648 and also, possibly, the Amendment in page 2, line 35 at the end to insert:(d) make provision for enabling the proceeds of heirless and unclaimed German enemy property which belonged to victims of Nazi persecution to be distributed for the relief and rehabilitation of surviving victims of Nazi persecution through a trust corporation or trust corporations to be formed for that purpose.
§ Mr. Janner (Leicester, West)
I beg to move, in page 1, line 6, after "property," to insert:except heirless and unclaimed property of victims of Nazi persecution.The first two Amendments on the Order Paper are put down to meet the case of the Custodian not handing properties over to the administrator, and in the third Amendment provision is made for the event of the property actually being handed over to the administrator. In the circumstances, therefore, with respect, I propose to follow the lines you suggested, Major Milner. I am sure my hon. Friends will agree.
As I said on Second Reading, this appears to be a very mundane kind of Bill dealing in a very short form with technical points, making arrangements to carry into effect something which had been prepared in the past. It is quite possible that some people might regard the Bill as nothing more or less than a continuing Bill, following upon previous legislation, in order to dispose of technical matters. It is, in fact, nothing of the kind. It deals, I submit, with one of the most moving matters which the House or Committee has had to consider. It goes to the very root of one of the most serious attacks ever made upon civilisation. It deals with a situation in which over six million people were put to death, and I respectfully submit that the provisions of the Bill must be regarded in the light of that great tragedy which befell the world.
We cannot debate this Measure as though it were in a vacuum. I believe that we shall see that we are including questions relating to the successors of a large section of the world's community, who were imprisoned within the walls of Nazi Germany and her satellites. It is ridiculous to talk about incarceration within walls in Germany not being "deprivation of liberty," after that brutal and serious limitation which was placed upon these 649 men and women. I say in general terms, because these Amendments deal with this matter specifically, that the whole situation is one in which every individual who was in fear of death, or torture and of imprisonment—and the fear was a very real one, as I have said, because six million men women and children were put to death—is entitled to be regarded as a victim of Nazi persecution. No question should be raised as to what constitutes the removal of liberty from such individuals.
I say this because, later on, the Committee will appreciate that it is essential for the whole wide aspect of this matter to be taken into consideration. The House stood in a solemn spirit, previously unheard of in the annals of our Parliaments, in order to protest against these inhumanities, and all I am asking today is that that should be kept in mind when dealing with this Bill. The Bill purports—
§ The Chairman
The hon. Gentleman keeps referring to the Bill. I should like him, if he will, to confine himself to the Amendments which the Committee are discussing. They may need some little introduction of this nature, but I hope the hon. Gentleman will not find it necessary to repeat himself.
§ Mr. Janner
No, I shall not repeat it, but, with the greatest respect, I think it is important for the purpose of the Amendment to point out to the Committee that we ought to deal with the situation in the manner I have suggested, because this Measure providesfor the disposal of German enemy property held or controlled under the Trading with the Enemy, Act, 1939.When I ask that these particular cases to which the Amendments refer should be excluded, or dealt with in a specific manner, I think it is important to know what was the intention of Parliament when the Trading with the Enemy Act was passed. In order to do that, the Committee may realise that it was intended that this type of case should not be included, and I wish to quote from the Second Reading speech of the then President of the Board of Trade, who said, dealing with Clause 7 of the Trading with the Enemy Bill:Under this Clause the definition of enemy property—property which will vest in these 650 Custodians—is ' that for the time being belonging to or held or managed on behalf of an enemy or an enemy subject,' but I would call attention to the fact that I can prescribe by order what steps are to be taken with any class of enemy property"—and I am dealing now with heirless and unclaimed property—and although in terms"—
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
On a point of Order. I suggest it would be helpful to the Committee if the hon. Gentleman would explain his Amendments. Nothing he has so far said is relative to the Amendments we are discussing.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
Further to that point of Order. While I have every sympathy with the hon. Gentleman, I am anxious not to prejudice the discussion of other Amendments on the Order Paper which deal specifically with this point. I thought his Amendment referred only to heirless and unclaimed property.
§ 11.15 a.m.
§ Mr. Janner
I am amazed, that when one is dealing with the heirless and unclaimed property of the victims of Nazi persecution, attempts should be made to prevent one explaining why the effects of such victims should be dealt with in a different manner from those of persons who were not enemies. If we are to deal with people who are their successors, and who are still alive, is it not infinitely more important that we should know the reasons which prompt these Amendments in cases where whole families have been wiped out? Did not the Trading with the Enemy Act Debates, when this matter was first mentioned, affect properties of that sort? Of course, it did. I ask you, Major Milner, to say that in those circumstances, I must be allowed to refer to the original Trading with the Enemy Act so that we shall know what was then intended in respect of the specific type of property about which I am speaking. It may be that at a later stage other points will be raised, but there is no reason why attempts should be made to prevent a case from being put in respect of these particular Amendments, about which my hon. Friends and I feel very strongly.
The President of the Board of Trade went on: 651I would call attention to the fact that I can prescribe by order what steps are to be taken with any class of enemy property"—and I am dealing with one of the classes of enemy property—and although in terms this would allow me to make an order which vested in the Custodians the property of, say, those refugees to whom reference has been made earlier during our proceedings"—and I am dealing with those refugees and their relatives—I think it is only right to tell the House that if I get the power under this Clause my intention is to issue a general order which will not vest the property of such people in the Custodians"—the people whom I am talking about, the victims of Nazi persecution—although it will rightly impose upon them the obligation to register with the Custodians the extent of their property.Mr. Pethick-Lawrence in the same Debate made this significant statement:This present emergency differs from the Great War of 1914–18 in two particulars. In the first place, broadly speaking, during the previous war all the subjects of Germany and Austria, and the other Powers allied against us"—and I am talking about some of these subjects now—were potential enemies, whereas of course, as we have heard from the reply of the Home Secretary earlier on, it is evident that there are resident in this country many persons who are technically enemy subjects"—and I am also talking about some of those who have died and who have left no heirs; those are the very persons T am dealing with—and are more enthusiastically with us in the persecution of the war than anyone else. We have to take that entirely new fact into consideration"—these people were the victims of Nazi persecution and were with us. They are among the people about whom I am talking.The other new fact is that we are not carrying out legislation of this kind for the first time, because we have the experience of the late war present in our minds. As far as I can see, the proposals that the right hon. Gentleman makes with regard to those who are enemy subjects in our midst"—some of whom have died, and some of whom this Amendment deals with. I am sorry to keep on interpolating these explanations. I do so because I am ex-tremely surprised that that other point should have been taken, particularly by those who want to help in this matter. 652As far as L can see, the proposals that the right hon. Gentleman makes with regard to those who are enemy subjects in our midst who are not in any sense our enemies seem to me to be adequate. The only point is that, of course, we shall have to watch how he carries out his undertaking, because it is naturally of a vague character, and we can only hope that our confident expectation that he will carry it out in the spirit of a reasonable attitude towards these people will be justified." [OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th September, 1939; Vol. 351, c. 404–5–6.]That is the basis of my appeal to the Minister today. My friends and I say that there is a clear distinction between the enemy alien and the person who was himself the victim of Nazi persecution. That distinction was understood from the beginning, and it is perfectly obvious that if that was so understood in 1939, it must be even more clear today, because from 1939 onwards the murders, the destructions, the tortures and miseries through which all these people went were aggravated, and we now know, now that the book is open, that what was said then was very definitely supplemented by the information we received afterwards.
I am asking the Committee to say that in those circumstances it is important we should draw this distinction between the enemy and his victims, many of whom served with the Forces of Britain and America and were killed in the cause of this country. I am talking about a number of people some of whom were actually killed in the service of the Allied cause, leaving no heirs and leaving no successors. That is the important point of this matter.
I ask, in the light of this, that one of two things should happen. Either the Custodian should not be asked to hand over to the administrator the property which is heirless or unclaimed, in other words, property belonging to the victims of Nazi persecution who have not left a single relative no matter how distant—either the Custodian should retain that property and be instructed by the Board of Trade to deal with it in the way which I am indicating in the third Amendment, or, as an alternative, it should be handed over to the administrator and dealt with in the way I have indicated in that Amendment.
It is not a novel idea to appoint trust corporations. It is something which is recognised in the rules and laws which have been passed in territories within our own competence. The military section of 653 the British zone, under Law 59 of Article VIII, has a provision for this precise kind of machinery to be set up to deal with heirless and unclaimed properties of the victims of Nazi persecution, racial, religious or political. Trust corporations are being set up at this very time, proposals with regard to the machinery of which I am concerned with myself and have been concerned with for some time; and, therefore, I think that hon. Members will appreciate that the machinery is known to me. This machinery is being prepared at present. Trust corporations are being set up in Germany for the purpose of dealing with a similar proposition relating to property there. The very term "victims of Nazi persecution" is used both there and in other legislation, so we are not asking for anything other than what is already defined, and provided for elsewhere in respect of property elsewhere.
It may be said: Why should this property which has come into our hands be relinquished? I suppose that from a material point of view one might not take into regard the happenings that I have mentioned. One might argue that someone or other might get a little less if my points were considered. I do not know the amount of property involved. If it is large that is all the more reason why we should deal with it in the spirit in which we agreed to in the passing of the Trading with the Enemy Act. The other point is this? We ask that these assets should be placed in the hands of trust corporations. That would enable these victims to whom I have referred—and quite properly referred—to participate in a fund derived from property which was left by people who, when alive, were in the same groupings as themselves, in order that the survivors might be rehabilitated. Why not?
Let me take one section of these victims—members of the Jewish community. It is well known that Jewish people throughout the world assist among others those who happen to be of their own religion and who are down and out. It is well known that a tremendous amount of money was raised by Jewish people outside Germany in order to help these poor victims. It is well known that in Germany itself, at the time when the community there was in existence, they assisted their co-religionists in poorer circumstances. In normal times, these persons, if they had not been the 654 victims of Nazi persecution but had been placed in poor circumstances, would have come to that community in order to be assisted and would have been assisted from funds collected to rehabilitate such persons.
Is not this argument even stronger here? Is not this the way of helping these remnants who are looking for some method of being rehabilitated today, and who are faced with a situation in which their fellow-victims who suffered even more than themselves and who were exterminated, would have helped them had they been alive? The funds of these victims should be utilised for the purpose for which the victims themselves would have utilised them had they not suffered death at the hands of their persecutors. It is in that spirit—and I believe with every reason on the side of those supporting this Amendment—that I move the Amendment. I ask my hon. Friends to regard it in the same sympathetic light as the previous legislation was regarded when the issue of enemy property was first raised.
§ 11.30 a.m.
§ Mr. Skinnard (Harrow, East)
I wish to support the Amendments. As far as I can make out, the date, both in this Bill and in the Trading with the Enemy Act, 1939, in relation to the definition of "enemy" is 3rd September, 1939. That brings into the scope of this Bill the property we are now discussing. My hon. Friend the Member for West Leicester (Mr. Janner) has, quite rightly, drawn attention to the fact that the victims of Nazi oppression, had they not been killed, would have come to the help of their co-religionists, as they always do so generously. I have in mind another class—the non-Jewish scholastic, legal and dramatic victims of Nazi persecution who have lost everything as a result of that persecution. They had nothing to help them except professional funds, and these funds were escheated by the Nazis as soon as they realised to what purpose they were being put. There comes to my mind one of the most distinguished opera singers in Germany, who is now ekeing out a precarious living by giving singing lessons because her rehabilitation has been rendered impossible by poverty.
I do not know how much of the property to be taken over falls into the cate- 655 gory of heirless and unclaimed property with which the Amendments seek to deal, but there is a case for remembering that a great many people, regarded for the purposes of the Bill as enemies, were, in fact, detained in Germany against their will and were entirely opposed to Nazi doctrines. I believe I am right in saying that German legislation in 1941 deprived them of their nationality. I am thinking of a wider range of victims, both those who are living and have been persecuted, and the victims who have died as a result of that persecution, when I ask that any property held which derived from the latter class should be devoted to the relief of the former. Those who died would have desired this, and I hope the Committee will see the justice of the Amendments.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
It is only right and proper to acknowledge at once that the principles on which this matter ought to be determined, which have been described by my hon. Friend the Member for East Leicester (Mr. Janner), have already been accepted by the Governments of all the Allied nations, including the Government of this country. I do not think it is in the least necessary to persuade them to accept the principles, because they have bound themselves by international agreement to give effect to them. What we are really concerned with today is the question whether, and, if so, how, these obligations that are already binding on the Government should be embodied in the Bill. Considered from that point of view, I am bound to say that I do not think these Amendments are very practicable.
The first Amendment prevents the Government from collecting any property at all. If accepted, the Clause would read:His Majesty may by Order in Council make provision for the collection and realisation of German enemy property, except heirless and unclaimed property.If it is not collected, and there is no power to collect it, how is it possible to give effect to the third Amendment, which asks the Government to make provision to enable the proceeds of heirless and unclaimed German property to be available in certain ways? I cannot follow that at all.
§ Mr. Janner
If my hon. Friend had read carefully what is in these Amendments, he would not have made that suggestion. I made it clear that the first two Amendments deal with the position when the Custodian hands over this property to be administered. I pointed out, as an alternative, that the third Amendment is necessary if the properties are handed over to the administrator. If my hon. Friend had listened to what I said, he would understand that the first two Amendments go together and the third is an alternative.
§ Mr. Silverman
I am much obliged to my hon. Friend, and I assure him that I heard what he said and understood it. Nevertheless, in my opinion the Amendments are not very practicable and would have the effect I have described. They would begin by preventing the Custodian of Enemy Property—
§ Mr. Silverman
My hon. Friend is far more likely to be right, but, nevertheless, I should like to express my opinion to the contrary. The effect of the first Amendment seems to me to prevent the Custodian from possessing himself of the property, and he is then to assume an obligation to hand it over to a trustee corporation. Although I have the fullest sympathy with the object of my hon. Friend, I cannot see how that will work. The more practical way of dealing with the matter is by way of definition, that is to say, what is "a German" and what is "Germany enemy property ". If we can get a definition of that embodied in the appropriate place in the Bill, we shall not need to make exceptions about the collection of property, because all the people on whose behalf my hon. Friend has been speaking would be excluded and their property would not come into question at all.
I recognise that this would leave partly uncovered the main point with which the first Amendment deals, namely, the property that is completely heirless and unclaimed because there are no relatives. I think that a suitable form of words should be devised to cover that point. As far 657 as I know—I speak with some diffidence on the point—there is no such heirless and unclaimed property in this country—I have not heard of any. There is such property in other countries, and provision has been made for that, as my hon. Friend knows. He is quite right when he says that trustee corporations have been set up, by international agreement, for the purpose of preventing this unclaimed property being escheated in the countries where it happens to be found, on behalf of those who, everyone will agree, are the proper heirs in the absence of any personal relatives.
I agree with my hon. Friend that if there is any chance whatever of there being any such property in this country, it ought to be covered by the same kind arrangement as has been made in other countries. I thought it right to say that I do not think it is necessary to appeal to the Government as to what the right principles are, and to state what I think the effect of these Amendments will be.
§ Mr. Weitzman (Stoke Newington)
I did not understand the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), perhaps because of my own stupidity. He told us he was in perfect sympathy with the idea underlying the Amendments, but suggested that they would not carry out their object and that by the definition of the words "enemy property" we might overcome that difficulty. ' I see no Amendment on the Order Paper about enemy property which would rectify that difficulty. Speaking as a lawyer, I cannot understand my hon. Friend's objection that the Amendments do not carry out the objects for which they are intended. What he has done is to consider the first and second Amendments in the name of the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Janner) as if they were joint Amendments with my hon. Friend's third Amendment, whereas it is clear that his third Amendment is an alternative to the first two. If my hon. Friend will appreciate that, I am sure his doubts will be removed.
On Second Reading a number of Members drew attention to the way in which the Custodian of Enemy Property dealt with the release of the assets of victims of Nazi persecution; indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne 658 was one of them. It will be remembered that the Secretary for Overseas Trade gave us certain assurances, but as matters stand at present, we are merely left with those assurances. I have not the slightest doubt that those acting for the Government will do everything they can to help, but assurances are not so satisfactory as something put into the Bill, which lays down clearly what the position should be. At the moment, property of the victims of Nazi persecution may be in the hands of the Custodian of Enemy Property. Those victims and their families are dead, and there is no one left to claim the property. It is suggested today that that property will presumably pass into the hands of the administrator under the Bill. If so, and if nothing further is done, the property will be available to meet the claims of persons in respect of German enemy debts. That means that it is left to the good will of the Minister, or the administrator, to act in this matter and it is wrong that that should be the case.
Clause 1 (1) uses the words… the collection and realisation of German enemy property.That term "German enemy property" is defined in Clause 8, and if we leave it in that way it means that the assets of Nazi victims will come within that definition. It is obvious to every member of the Committee that the assets of Nazi victims should not be considered as German enemy property; indeed, quite the reverse. The object of the Amendments is to ensure that that property should not be available as property whrh comes from an enemy, but should be dealt with as property which comes from victims of Nazi oppression. The third Amendment suggests the formation of a trust corporation. Could there be any better idea than that? Property obtained from the victims of Nazi oppression ought to go for the relief and rehabilitation of the victims of Nazi aggression. If it is suggested that there is anything impracticable about that, there is a precedent for it in our military rules in Germany, which have recognised that property of this kind should be treated in that way. It is only proper that these Amendments should be accepted by the Government.
§ The Secretary for Overseas Trade (Mr. Bottomley)
As a non-lawyer, may I first of all say that I join in the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Janner)? This great country of ours played its part in destroying those responsible for the tyranny inflicted on the people to whom he has referred. I find myself in the fortunate position of having some support from my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) who, in part, answered some of the observations which have been made in support of these Amendments. Concerning the question of a trust corporation, I would remind the Committee that such a corporation has been set up in Germany for internal restitution. It is right that the German Government should make some restitution to those who have suffered. The nearest comparison I can make is the Roumanian Peace Treaty, to which my hon. Friend the Member for West Leicester referred, although what he suggests goes much further than anything contained in that Treaty.
My hon. Friend will recall that in that Treaty the Roumanian Government were required to restore property which had been confiscated under their racial or religious decrees. Where such property was heirless or unclaimed they had to transfer it to an organisation for the rehabilitation of surviving members of such groups. But the object there was to prevent stolen property remaining in the hands of those who had improperly taken it. Property unclaimed at the end of six months was deemed to be heirless.
§ Mr. Janner
I did not suggest that the agreements made with other countries affected the matter. My hon. Friend says that in that case the property was stolen. I ask him to say, in respect of property which we have obtained from non-enemies, that it shall be treated as non-enemy property. It is a terrible thing to connect those who were victims of the enemy with the enemy, and make their property available for purposes for which it should not be made available. We have recognised this in the British zone, and the American Congress is about to face a similar position.
§ Mr. Bottomley
What my hon. Friend is suggesting goes far beyond anything which has been done already. What he 660 is trying to say is that we should exclude for all time from the general scope of distribution, a somewhat ill-defined part of the property which has become public. The Amendments would permit of it being handed over to some corporation, over which it is doubtful whether His Majesty's Government would have any control at all. It would be for the generally expressed purpose of relieving and rehabilitating surviving victims of German persecution wherever they might be.
The Amendments have to be considered in the light of what is now being done. The Government have agreed to accept a reduction in their share of reparations for the benefit of those victims, to whom reference has already been made. We are doing all we can to help. It has been our practice to release bequests to heirs or legatees living outside enemy countries of deceased enemy nationals who satisfy I.A.R.A. rules; that is to say, the Government have already made a contribution to those" who are victims of racial persecution, by enabling heirs of Nazi persecution to inherit the property of the deceased.
This House could not hand over an undefined amount of money to a public corporation, which has no clearly defined duties imposed on it, and which would not be accountable to Parliament. If grants are to be made out of public funds they must be for a clearly defined object, and the amount to be made should be explicit so that the House itself can see what is being done. Certainly, the moneys should be voted by the House of Commons itself. I do not think that what is proposed is in any sense a workable proposition, and I agree entirely with the early observations which have been made about its workability. For those reasons the Government decline to accept the Amendments.
§ Mr. Weitzman
Does this mean that the property from victims of Nazi oppression, which has been obtained because there are no heirs or because it is unclaimed, is to go into the fund of German enemy property, and is to be treated in the same way as other property against which claims may be made?
§ Amendment negatived.661
§ Mr. Osbert Peake (Leeds, North)
J beg to move, in page 2, line 3, at the end, to insert:(d) the publication and advertisement by the administrator of lists of German enemy property transferred or vested to or in him and the person or bodies of persons to whom such property belonged or on whose behalf it was held or managed.This is the first of a number of Amendments on the Order Paper in my name and that of my hon. Friends, and for the convenience of hon. Members still within the precincts of Westminster I should like to say that this is a non-party Bill and that we do not propose to divide the Committee on this or any of the other Amendments. However, we think that these points are worthy of careful consideration by the Government, and it may be that they will be prepared to give second thoughts to them before the conclusion of the remaining stages of the Bill or before it goes to another place.
This Amendment provides that an Order in Council under Clause I should make provision for:the publication and advertisement by the administrator of lists of German enemy property transferred or vested to or in him and the person or bodies of persons to whom such property belonged or on whose behalf it was held and managed.I raised this point during the Second Reading Debate, when I suggested that it would be desirable for the administrator, to whom German properties are to be transferred, to publish some information concerning the property which he held. On 2nd November, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury told the House that he proposed to give persons who had claims against specific German assets the option of pressing their claim against those specific assets or of claiming under the general Bill. It seems to me to be quite impossible for anybody to exercise an option in the dark without any knowledge of what property is held by the administrator, against which they may have a claim.
In the second place it would not seem to be the insuperable difficulty which the Financial Secretary made out when he interrupted me during my Second Reading speech and said:It would be quite unrealistic to ask either the Advisory Committee or the Custodian of Enemy Property to publish lists of assets.I was not suggesting that the Advisory 662 Committee should publish lists of assets. That would be quite outside their functions, which are to advise; nor was it suggested that the Custodian of Enemy Property should publish lists. My suggestion was that the administrator to be appointed under an Order in Council should publish the lists. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say:They"—that is, the assets—run into a numerous number of folios and are given item by item. It would be an incredible thing to do.It has already been done in the United States, and, I believe, in other countries. It is not quite as incredible as the right hon. Gentleman apparently believes it to be. He then observed:Information given both to the individual and to the Advisory Committee is another thing, but the long list of German assets in this country are more or less an estimate of what they may or may not be worth….I did not suggest that estimates should be published of what the assets are worth. All I was suggesting was that a list of assets should be published. People, of course, can form their own opinion of what a particular item in it was worth. He added:… and ought not to be asked for"—as if we were asking for something wrong in suggesting that there should be publications—and certainly not published.When we turn back to the right hon. Gentleman's opening speech we find that he gave a short description of what the assets were mainly concerned of; he estimated the value of the property in toto at £15 million, and said:Much of it—about £10 million sterling—is in liquid form.That does not present any difficuty.The rest, comprising houses, bullion, jewellery, stocks and shares, reversions, policies of insurance and the like, has not yet been realised and the value of it is, of course, what it will fetch when it comes to be sold in the open market."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1949; Vol. 469, c. 1870–1887.]We are not asking for lists giving infinite detail. We do not want a list of trinkets or small pieces of jewellery or things of that character, but surely it would be possible to give to the general public what the right hon. Gentleman is willing to give to individual applicants—a short list of 663 the items which have a value in excess of say £100 or something like that. That does not seem to me to be insuperable, and it would be fair to rival claimants that the lists should be published. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider the answer which he gave to me during my Second Reading speech.
§ 12 noon.
§ Colonel Dower (Penrith and Cockermouth)
I am sorry that my right hon. Friend for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) said we would not have a battle across the Floor of the Committee because, although I can assure him that I shall not quarrel with him, if any points arise, I shall certainly hold myself free to support other hon. Members who may find it necessary to divide the Committee.
I agree with what my right hon. Friend has said and I do not intend to repeat it, but there are one or two points which I hope the Financial Secretary will bear in mind. We do not want publication in detail or in any final form because I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will say that it would be impossible to publish any final list. I cannot believe that the question of space would rule out periodical publication because of the number of things published in the papers, such as Stock Exchange transactions where, while every transaction is not published, an indication is given of price and value.
During the Second Reading Debate I drew the attention of the right hon. Gentleman's colleague to the fact that in certain cases the Custodian of Enemy Property had not carried out his duties of managing the property efficiently. I gave instances where war damage claims had not been registered, where the War Damage Commission had refused to meet other claims because proper repairs had not been carried out, and where some claims had been reduced to half. If a list were published it would show clearly the estate in the hands of the Custodian and, if the public are so informed and they think it is not being properly managed, someone will start to make a noise about it, which would be a good thing. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman, who is such a valuable adviser to the Public Accounts Committee will agree with me in principle on this point.
§ Mr. Drayson (Skipton)
I have been trying to consider what possible objections the Financial Secretary might have to acceding to our wishes. I raised the point with him in an interjection to his speech in the Second Reading Debate. The right hon. Gentleman said then:That, of course, is a matter of detail.. the Custodian of Enemy Property will be prepared to help individuals to make up their minds whether to proceed against the assets of a given debtor… "—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1949; Vol. 469, c. 1880.]If the Custodian has all this information at his fingertips, as presumably he must have because he has had, since 1939, to prepare the most minute list of these assets, it should be possible for some kind of list to be published. If it cannot be published in vast numbers, surely copies could be made available at places where Government records or business papers are available for public scrutiny, such as the Board of Trade or Somerset House. There, on the payment of a small sum, it should be possible for a person with a claim against possible enemy assets to peruse the list for himself, rather than go to the Custodian and ask for his assistance If the items run into many thousands, as we have been given to understand, it might take the person many hours of research. I, therefore, ask the Financial Secretary to make the list available for scrutiny, even if it cannot be published in a large number of copies.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Glenvil Hall)
I was gratified to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) say that he and his hon. Friends did not desire to treat this Bill on a party basis. I and my hon. Friends on this side approach the Bill in the same spirit. Within the limits set by the amount available we all want to do justice to those creditors who take priority in this matter. That being so, I approach this Amendment in no captious spirit and, if it were reasonable and feasible to accept it, I should be delighted so to do.
The right hon. Gentleman quoted an interjection I made when he was dealing with this matter in his Second Reading speech. What he said about the Advisory Committee is correct. I do not doubt that I used the words "Advisory Committee," but I meant the administrator, and I realised at the time that it was the administrator of whom he was speak- 665 ing and not the Advisory Committee. I also said that in my view the lists asked for could certainly not be promised, but that is a small point.
If we attempted what the right hon. Gentleman now requests, it would be a formidable task. If we could start afresh, no doubt we. might have made them as we went along, which is what the American Alien Property Custodian did. As property came to him he listed it, and those lists were published or made available at regular intervals. If we attempted to do this now it would mean a great increase in staff, and it is our view that the information, even when prepared and published, would not be of all that use to those who thought it necessary to consult it.
We ask the Committee to be realistic in this matter. The Custodian did not take over physically many of the assets which now come within the orbit of this Bill. Some of them were translated into liquid form, and those are in his possession, but many of them were not transferred in the physical sense, and one of the provisions of the Bill permits that transfer to the administrator to take place.
The only difficulty arises with those who might desire to exercise their option to proceed against a particular debtor. We realise that difficulty exists and, as I indicated on Second Reading, we are willing to do all we can to help those in that situation. To the best of his ability, the administrator will be willing to give all the information he can to creditors once this gets going.
It seems to me not unreasonable to suppose that the creditor himself knows a good deal about the assets of the particular debtor and whether, in his view, he should pursue that individual firm or company. Creditors themselves, therefore, should get busy to ascertain, on their own behalf, the exact situation regarding the assets in this country of their debtors. For those reasons, it would be unrealistic to accept the Amendment. There is another perfectly good reason against it. Even if we attempted to do what is proposed, and if it were physically possible to do it, we should not need an Amendment to enable it to be done. It can be done by regulation if at any time, either partially or wholly, it appeared essential that lists 666 of this kind should be prepared and published for the use of creditors of these assets.
§ Colonel Dower
Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that all claimants of every kind must ask to see a list of this kind, for they may well not know whether the specific assets against which they wish to proceed have not already been taken into the pool.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
I have tried to explain that a creditor in that position has two courses open to him. He can go, first, to the Custodian and, later, to the administrator; or he can go straight to the assets. He surely has some knowledge of where they are. They must be in some physical shape, either liquid or in more permanent form, in this country.
§ Mr. Peake
I am glad to have the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman that the course proposed in the Amendment could be taken by regulation without an Amendment to the Bill if in practice it is found necessary. I believe that in practice it will be found essential to enable people to exercise the option which the right hon. Gentleman proposes to give them. In view, however, of the assurance by the right hon. Gentleman that powers already exist under which lists can be published if such a course is found essential, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Peake
I beg to move, in page 2, line 18, at the end, to insert:(h) the establishment of an independent tribunal to which appeals may be made in respect of any claim disallowed by the administrator or any objection to any claim admitted by the administrator or any objection to the inclusion of any property as German enemy property.This is purely a machinery Bill, and it appears that there is no intention on the part of the Government for there to be any appeal to any tribunal of any sort or kind; that the last word in everything is to lie with the administrator, the functions of the Advisory Committee, as I understand it, being purely advisory and in no sense administrative or judicial. Subsection (2) provides that the Order in Council may make provision as to the following matters:—(d) the determination, as respects any such claim, of the question whether the claim is established for the purposes of the Order …667 I understood during the Second Reading Debate, however, from the reply of the Secretary for Overseas Trade, that there was no intention whatever of having any independent tribunal which could possibly be established, at any rate for the purposes of determining whether a claim is established, under subsection (2, d).
We think that there should be an independent tribunal, for three reasons. First, that anybody whose claim is disallowed by the administrator should have the right of appeal to an independent judicial tribunal. We think that with all the greater force because one of the largest claims comprising the total of £120 million is the claim for £4 million or thereabouts put forward by the Government in respect of their guarantees of the Austrian loans. I do not myself think that that is a very good claim. That is a guarantee which His Majesty's Government undertook many years ago. They undertook to stand behind the credit of the then Austrian Government and to meet the interest if the Austrian Government went into default. They have had to find money under those guarantees, but it does not seem to me that that claim ranks anything like as high or has anything like as much merit as the claims of the holders of the Young and Dawes bonds or the claims of persons having commercial or trading debts. My opinion on that point was reinforced in a letter to "The Times" early last week from Sir Otto Niemeyer.
It seems all wrong, therefore, to put an administrator appointed by the Board of Trade in the position of being the sole and only judge upon whether a claim for £4 million put forward by the Government is a good one or a bad one, or indeed, if it is a good claim, what priority, if any, it should have regarding the extent of payment; because the administrator may not only decide whether a claim is admissible or not, but he may go on to decide that certain claims shall be paid in priority to others and that certain claims shall be paid in full or as to 50 per cent. and others only as to 10 or five per cent. All these duties are placed upon the administrator, who is to be the sole judge. It seems to me to put the administrator in a perfectly impossible position where the Government them- 668 selves are one of the principal claimants, and in respect of a claim which on merits I believe to be a bad one.
The second purpose for which we propose that there should be an independent tribunal is in cases where the administrator admits a claim to which other claimants object; that is to say, that a person may not only go to the tribunal when his claim is disallowed but may do so when he thinks the tribunal has improperly admitted the claim of someone else. That is the specific case of the claim put forward by the Government to which I have just referred. Other creditors may well object to the admission of a claim of that character.
In the third place, we want any objection to the inclusion of any property as German enemy property to be the subject of an appeal to the independent tribunal; that to some extent is related closely to the point put forward on an earlier Amendment by the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Janner). In other words, there would be an appeal to the independent tribunal where it was stated that property was wrongly included in the category of German enemy property. I commend this Amendment, with all its merits, very strongly. I think that there is an absolutely unanswerable case in its support.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I have the greatest sympathy with this Amendment and I desire to support it. I am in a little difficulty about it, because I see that the right hon. Gentleman has not put down any Amendment so as to define statutorily the principles on which such a tribunal as he has in mind would be expected to work. How far that may affect the first two of the classes of appealable cases which he has in mind. I do not know; but unless the Bill were amended so as to define more exactly what a German enemy is, and what German enemy property is, an appeal to a tribunal, although it would indeed be a very necessary check upon what the administrator would do on his own. would be to that extent limited.
That is why I have put down later on the Paper, Amendments designed to define these points more precisely. If there were a tribunal, the tribunal would have to have regard to any such matters if they were accepted and embodied in the Bill.
669 But though I say that, even if no Amendments are accepted by the Government, either on the first two classes or the third class, I still think that the Government ought to give very sympathetic consideration indeed to the claim to have some kind of third party judgment in these matters. In my speech on Second Reading I referred to a number of cases which I think the Committee by common consent would say at any rate were appealable. The Secretary for Overseas Trade said that he had on previous occasions asked for cases to be submitted to him, and I think he said that none had been brought forward. I have done my best to rectify that.
§ Mr. Bottomley
I said that a deputation had waited upon me and had promised to give me some cases which had not arrived. In fact, they had arrived a day or two before.
§ Mr. Silverman
I am obliged to my hon. Friend. In case there was any difficulty about that,' I made some endeavours to see that a number of cases were brought to his attention. I wish to repeat that the cases to which I referred on Second Reading, and one or two more cases which I propose to refer to now, are not imaginary cases for the sake of illustrating arguments, but are actually decisions which have been made by the Custodian of Enemy Property. I say, without making any kind of criticism of good faith or anything of that kind, that on the face of them they are cases on which there ought to be an appeal, which certainly would be the subject of an appeal if there were a tribunal to which to appeal, and in which most lawyers would say that the appeal tribunal might think that the decision was wrong.
I should like to quote three or four to show the type of case I have in mind. I have actually on the paper beside the file number of the case, the names of the persons concerned, but I hope that the Committee will forgive me if I do not quote them. I only say that to show that they really are actual cases which have been contested and decided.
The first one to which I want to refer to is that of a man who was resident in Budapest. He was the founder of a pharmaceutical works in Budapest with affiliated companies in England and overseas. The assets in England blocked by 670 the Custodian comprise shares in British companies, other shares and some cash. In October, 1944, this gentleman and his wife received an order to leave their house and go to the ghetto, instead of which they went into hiding. The man was eventually arrested some months later and taken to police headquarters, where he was imprisoned. On the evening of the next day—so that I suppose he was in custody something between 24 and 36 hours—he was taken, together with 99 other Jews, to the Danube embankment and publicly shot. His wife was kept in prison until the liberation of Hungary and she is now in Switzerland. The only son escaped to Turkey, thence to Mexico and then came to this country.
The claim for the release of the assets blocked by the Custodian was rejected, as the Custodian was not satisfied that the condition "deprivation of liberty" was fulfilled. I do not know. I find it a little difficult to understand that decision. The facts are not in dispute. The Custodian does not dispute the facts in any way, but that is his decision. He is not satisfied that the condition "deprivation of liberty" was fulfilled. When renewed representations were made, he replied in a very recent letter, on 16th September of this year:Settled ex gratia release policy is explicit in requiring it to be shown that not only did death come about through Nazi persecution but that the deceased himself suffered deprivation of liberty in the natural meaning of the term.I wonder what is the natural meaning of the term "deprivation of liberty" which excludes the imprisonment of a man for between 24 and 36 hours in order to lead to his execution. I think that is the kind of case which one would be justified in saying ought to have gone to some kind of appeal tribunal—except that there is no provision for a tribunal.
Another case is of a man arrested in Bucharest by the Iron Guard. I do not think I need deal with this in any detail, because I referred to it in my Second Reading speech. It was one of those cases where people were put in gaol and told that they would be given eight days in gaol in which they could make up their minds whether they would sign away their property or be executed. Within the period of eight days he signed and on the third day he was released. The Custodian rejected the claim for the 671 release of the assets in this country for two reasons. One was that the period of detention amounted to only three days, which was inadequate.
How long did it have to be?—If it had been seven days 23½ hours and in the last half hour he had signed, would that have been allowed? If he had waited until the eight days were up and had then been shot, he might have been excluded on the same grounds as those given in the first case to which I referred. It is a very difficult decision to understand; but the Custodian also rejected it on a second ground that the action of the Iron Guards in rebellion was not to be viewed as an expression of Governmental authority.
It did not make much difference to the victim. He was taken and put into a prison. He was threatened with death and when he did what was required of him as a condition of release, he was released. If Government authority inspired it or connived at it or acquiesced in it, it does not seem to have made very much difference. However, the Custodian came to a different conclusion, and his conclusion was probably wrong on the facts, because my informants claimed to be able to prove that in fact at the time that these things were done the Iron Guards were not in rebellion against Governmental authority. They were being used as a supplementary police force by the Government. The Custodian came to a decion on the facts without any inquiry and without anybody knowing what the evidence was either way, when a tribunal might have assisted him in coming to a conclusion easier to understand.
Then, there was another case, of which I will give the particulars to my hon. Friend. A lady, who was not mixed up in politics in any way, was sent to prison or to a concentration camp because she was Jewish. When asked for the release of her assets in this country, the Custodian rejected the claim—in view of the fact that this lady was interned as a political suspect, rather than because she was sent to prison or a concentration camp in pursuance of any law discriminating against her on religious or racial grounds.No facts are given on why the lady was considered to be interned as a political suspect. Suspected of what? That would be an appealable case, but it has been 672 decided in the discretion of the Custodian, who does not give his sources of information, and the grounds upon which he came to his decision are not challengeable at all. If there were a tribunal, presumably, he would have to produce what evience he had, and other evidence would also be produced, with the result that some sort of judicial decision would be given.
I thought that actual instances of decisions which may have been appealable, if there were anything to appeal to, might assist the Committee and also assist the Government in making up their mind whether they will give some consideration to the Amendment which has been moved. One of the decisions was on a general principle—the principle that a labour camp in Hungary where only Jews were interned did not constitute deprivation of liberty. To quote again:The board does not regard forced labour as meeting the requirements of deprivation of liberty, which words are used to mean imprisonment or incarceration in a concentration camp.In 1945, as a member of the Parliamentary delegation, I went to the concentration camp of Buchenwald, I remember that, over the gates of that camp, there was an inscription in German in large capitals so that everyone might read, and that inscription, translated into English, would have read "Labour makes free." If this decision to which I have referred were applied generally, it would mean that no internee in Buchenwald would be regarded as a person exempt from the seizure of his property. That is really a very difficult decision to understand. I will give only one more instance.
§ Mr. Silverman
If my hon. Friend had said that instead of the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite, I would have been content to stop. I have only one other short case to quote. It is that of a youth of 18 years of age who was in Hungary during the war and who died 12 or 18 months after the end of the war. The claim in this case was disallowed because the Custodian decided that the application by the legal successor for the release of the assets in this country would not be admitted because the Jew in question was not deprived of his liberty. There are other cases which I could quote to the Committee.
673 I appreciate that there is a certain amount of difficulty in this matter, and that this is a machinery Bill. I also appreciate the point of view of the Government, as expressed on Second Reading, that it was better to leave all these matters to be dealt with administratively. I can see why they think so, but I did refer then, and I do now, to the fact that there is a precedent in these matters, the precedent of the tribunal established after the end of the First World War. Although it is quite true that the circumstances are different, I do not think they are different in any way relevant to this present case, and I think it would be a protection not merely to the applicant but to the Custodian himself, because he might like the assistance of a tribunal of appeal in the same way as judges often like to have the assistance of juries when matters of this kind have to be determined. I, therefore, hope that the Government will have second thoughts about this, and will accept either this Amendment or put forward a similar one of their own.
§ Mr. Weitzman
I hope the Minister will accept this proposition, because I think all will agree that one of the finest things in our system in this country is the system of appellate jurisdiction. Though I am sure that the Ministers concerned and anyone who has to administer this difficult matter will do their best, the fact remains that we have had quoted to us in the Committee today a number of glaring examples of obvious injustice. There is no doubt whatever that, in the cases which have come before the Custodian, there have been examples of real injustice. What possible objection can there be to this further safeguard in order to prevent the possibility of even one such injustice occurring again, which could be done by means of an independent tribunal?
My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) has pointed out that there is nothing in this Amendment which shows on what lines such an independent tribunal would act, but I do not think that is an objection to the Amendment. We know that the Custodian acts on certain principles, and doubtless the administrator will act on similar principles, but the cases quoted by my hon. Friend revealed a series of facts which, if put before an independent tri- 674 bunal, would give that independent tribunal the opportunity of looking at these facts and, on the principles laid down, considering the whole matter and asking whether the decision reached was a proper decision.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
Will my hon. Friend allow me? It is quite true that I thought there might be some principles embodied in the Bill, but, in the cases I am quoting, the tribunal would not have been in the difficulty to which I referred, because the Custodian of Enemy Property had, prior to this decision, in a communicated letter laid down the lines on which he would exercise his discretion. Of course, the tribunal would have been able to refer to the cases I have quoted in order to show how the Custodian had failed to observe the rules guiding his own discretion which he himself had laid down.
§ Mr. Weitzman
I am not quarrelling with my hon. Friend: I am merely making criticisms in regard to this matter viewed from any angle. The suggestion in the Amendment is a very good one—that, if these cases were put before an independent tribunal which could examine the facts, a decision could be taken on whether the administrator or the Custodian had given the right decision. What possible exception can there be on the part of Ministers to accepting a provision which would add that very good safeguard? When one considers how important it is in our system that we should have safeguards of this nature, I hope the Minister will accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. Janner
I should like to support the appeal made to the Minister, and also to put a point which has not yet been mentioned but which ought to be taken into consideration. We all know the kind of case which my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) has brought forward, and which has been brought forward by bodies such as the Board of Deputies of British Jews, of which I am a member.
I could quote dozens of cases to illustrate this peculiar delimitation of terms which was referred to earlier in the Debate today. There can be no question as to what was "deprivation of liberty" in a country like Nazi Germany. It is just nonsense and absurd, for example, to 675 suggest that anyone who has had to hide in a grave for years, only emerging in the middle of the night in order to obtain some food or sustenance with the help of fearless friends in a district, was not "deprived of liberty," or to say that, because persons were not actually incarcerated by the Nazis or some other brutes in power, they are not to be regarded as having been "deprived of their liberty."
The property that will come to the administrator under this Bill will be that which is handed over by the Custodian. Consequently, the Custodian will, to some considerable extent, already have made a decision. In view of the fact that the Custodian has made certain decisions which appear to me—and, I am sure, must appear to a large number of people—as being decisions not based upon a judicial interpretation of the term "deprive of liberty," it is important that the prejudice in interpretation which might arise from the Custodian's department in respect of a particular matter should not be carried on to the administrator's department, and that consequently there should be an independent consideration of an appeal from a decision. I have found, of course, that in some cases the Custodian has dealt reasonably with problems, but in many others he has dealt with them in the spirit which I mentioned when speaking on my previous Amendment.
There are two other points I wish to raise. The first is that I do not think that a tribunal of that description would throw the onus of proof in a matter of this sort upon the applicant. I think it is important that the onus of proof should not be left on the person who applies for the return of his property when, in the first instance, he was racially or in a religious or political sense, oppressed. I think that in such a case the onus should shift, and I believe that in the case of a judicial tribunal it would shift from the shoulders of the applicant to those who opposed the applicant, or to the administrator himself.
My second point is this. I do not know whether at any stage of these Committee proceedings we shall be told—and for the purpose of this Amendment, as of others, it is important that we should—when it is intended that the administrator should take over, and 676 whether it is intended to extend the time provided for the making of claims, which at present, I believe, terminates in December, 1949—to the Custodian or to the administrator because without that provision—I am now talking of a claim in respect of assets which belong to persecuted persons—it would mean that if the claim were not made by December, 1949, there would be no question of appealing to the tribunal, of receiving payment, or of anything else. If the opportunity of claiming were taken away, then, of course, neither this Amendment nor any other dealing with that aspect of the position would be of much use. I hope we shall be told that the time will be extended for claims to be made to the Custodian, that in cases where the Custodian has any doubts he will still continue to administer the property, and that, when property is handed over to the administrator, an opportunity will be given to the individual to make an appeal to a tribunal.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
I must ask the Committee to reject this Amendment for reasons which I will give very briefly. First, I should point out that we have considered whether we should put machinery of this sort into the Bill. Although we do not object in principle to a sort of revising authority or tribunal for reviewing decisions, we thought that, on balance—and I hope the Committee will take the same view when they hear the reasons why we came to the decision—it would be wrong to insert a provision for a tribunal in this Bill.
As I understand the Amendment, it asks us to do two things. Firstly, it asks us to set up a tribunal to hear appeals from the administrator's decision, and secondly—and here, I think, we are on firmer ground in asking the Committee to reject the suggestion—to hear appeals where a dispute has arisen whether any particular property is German enemy property. My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), who is a very able debater, cited a number of cases. I may be wrong in this—and he will correct me if I am—but listening to him very carefully, as I did, I thought I detected that the people concerned in most of the cases which he mentioned were not Germans at all; they were Hungarians or Roumanians, and therefore outside the scope of this Bill.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
They were not all outside the precise scope of the Bill; some were in Hamburg and some in Berlin. It is quite true that others were Roumanian and Hungarian, but I cited those only illustratively, because if the same kind of decision were to be applied to cases within the Bill as had been applied to these Hungarian and Roumanian cases outside the Bill, that seemed to me to establish the need for a tribunal.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
Even if all the cases cited had been those of Germans our objection to setting up a tribunal to deal with them would still remain, because, as we see it, anyone feeling that a property is not German property by definition under this Bill when it becomes an Act would have the right to take the matter to the High Court, and such an individual who took his case to the High Court would, in my view, have a very good case.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
May I add—because this is probably what my hon. Friend is about to put to me—that it would be quite outside the point if we had inserted in the Bill a provision whereby a tribunal might deal with these matters, because the tribunal could do no more than comply with the provisions of the Bill.
§ Mr. Silverman
I was going to ask my right hon. Friend what I hoped would be a more difficult question to answer than that. Is my right hon. Friend saying that the Government are prepared to define enemy property for these purposes? The definition Clause is Clause 8, but there is no definition there of what is enemy property which would deal with the point we are now discussing, though it is true that I have an Amendment down to secure that result. I intervened to ask my right hon. Friend whether he proposed to accept that Amendment because, if he does, I would agree with his argument as I would sooner go to the High Court than to a tribunal. I do say, however, that if he is not prepared to accept either that Amendment or any other Amendment which would define German enemy property, then he ought to allow an appeal to a tribunal under the Bill for what would then be a purely administrative, discretionary decision.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
As my hon. Friend knows very well, I cannot at this moment deal with the point he has just raised because we shall be discussing it when we reach the interpretation Clause, namely, Clause 8. However, I would point out that in that Clause we do define at some length what in the terms of the Bill must be considered as German enemy property.
Let us look at this from a common-sense point of view, because that is what we at the Treasury have to try to do. We should remember before we go any-further that we shall have as assets about 10 per cent. of what people may desire to claim, and therefore it seems to me that we may get quite a number of people who feel aggrieved at the amount which their claim realises. Human nature being what it is, some of them—not all of them, but a fair proportion—may say, "Let us have a second cut at this and take the matter to a tribunal." That would hold up proceedings for a long time, because one cannot begin to distribute even an interim dividend until one has some idea of the total of the claims likely to be accepted.
May I say, in reply to the right hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) who unfortunately has had to leave for an engagement in his constituency, that he is quite wrong in assuming that the administrator will actually say which classes of claims can be accepted or refused. That will be done by the Order in Council, and that Order in Council will not be promulgated until we have got quite a long way in discussing with the Advisory Committee and others just what claims are reasonable for admission and which are not.
§ Mr. Assheton
Would the right hon. Gentleman allow me to intervene to clarify one point? Would it not be a function of the adminstrator, for example, to take any decision on the question whether or not the Government claim on account of the Austrian guarantee was to be included, or would that be governed by the Order in Council?
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
Again, it would depend. If it came within the ambit of the Bill, obviously the claim would be admissible, and I have no doubt that we may be again dealing with the point either 679 on the Question "That the Clause stand part of the Bill" or on an Amendment. Therefore, if the right hon. Gentleman will permit me, I will not deal with the merits, or the morality, of the case whether the British taxpayer himself should put in a claim with others. That, I think, is not the point at issue now, and it is certainly not a point that would be taken to a tribunal. If under the Bill, when it becomes an Act, the British taxpayer has a right to put in a claim, it will be for decision then whether that claim is put in or not. With all due respect, that has nothing to do with the narrow point whether we should or should not set up a tribunal.
I do not want to talk at length on this Amendment; naturally, we all want to get on. I hope I have made it quite clear that we are not opposing this Amendment simply for the sake of opposing it. In our view, it would clog the machine, and we have no reason to believe for one moment that the administrator will not do his work in a straightforward and proper manner. He will not lay down what claims are to be excepted. That will be done not by him but by a higher authority, and all that he will be concerned with is whether a creditor can substantiate a debt which he is claiming is due to him.
Therefore, for reasons which I have stated—namely, that it would hold up distribution, that it would not help the type of case which I know Members have in mind and with 'which quite frankly we sympathise—I must reject this Amendment. In addition, the President of the Board of Trade is answerable to Parliament, and cases which might otherwise go to a tribunal can be brought to him and raised here at appropriate times. That being the position, I hope the Committee will agree that we should not put this provision into the Bill.
§ Colonel Dower
I really am very sorry that the Financial Secretary has not been able in some sort of way to meet us on this point, because I think every hon. Member is in favour of some form of appeal. I fully realise that the right hon. Gentleman is anxious that nothing should clog the work of the administrator, that he should get on with his job, and that a large number of people always feel 680 aggrieved, whether they are in fact aggrieved or not.
I know the right hon. Gentleman has thought this out before the Bill was introduced, but I should like to ask him in all earnestness whether, before the Bill goes to another place, he can think of some way in which the case having been decided by the administrator, it might be re-opened with the administrator's department again. I do not look upon the administrator as a bad man, but we all make errors, even if it is only a question of putting a letter in the wrong envelope. I know that these things happen. Although in some cases people may not have cause for appeal, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to see whether, without clogging the machinery, some provision of this nature can be inserted between now and when the Bill goes to another place.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
Everything is nice and friendly this morning, and I hesitate to turn down out of hand the appeal which has been made by the hon. and gallant Member for Penrith and Cocker-mouth (Colonel Dower), but we have thought this matter out. It must also be remembered that in many of these cases there would be very little in the way of written evidence to take to the tribunal. Records have been blitzed and lost, and very often it would be difficult to collect evidence. Therefore, we want to give the administrator some elasticity.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
My hon. Friend will appreciate that only in one of the cases that I cited this morning did any issue of fact arise, and even that did not depend upon documents that could have been destroyed. In all the other cases, what was involved was the interpretation of ordinary language which interpretation the courts might be expected to give. In all those cases the Custodian has laid down for himself, in terms with which nobody has quarrelled, rules for the guidance of his own discretion. All these cases, unless I am mistaken, are cases where he has not interpreted his own rules correctly. There is no difficulty of evidence.
Mr. Glenvil Hail
Surely the rules to which my hon. Friend referred were the international rules, were they not?
§ Mr. Assheton (City of London)
I very much regret the decision which the Financial Secretary has announced on behalf of the Government. On every side of the Committee there has been an appeal to him to allow this Amendment to be incorporated in the Bill. The purpose of the Amendment was made very clear by my right hon. Friend who introduced it. I listened very carefully to the arguments which the Financial Secretary put forward. His principal argument was that this provision might clog the machine. I suggest that that is a lamentable argument to put forward. Any court of appeal or tribunal causes a certain amount of delay. Of course, it is always more agreeable for anybody who is administering to be freed from the likelihood of an appeal against his decision. I suggest that this is another instance of rough justice, and, as I have said before from this Box, rough justice very often means injustice.
I beg the Financial Secretary to consider this matter again. This Bill has to go through further stages, and it will no doubt have considerable discussion in another place. It is the sort of topic on which detailed discussion in another place is very likely to be most useful, as I am sure all hon. Members agree. I beg the right hon. Gentleman to suggest to his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade and others concerned that there has been expressed from every quarter of this Committee, just as much from his own supporters as from mine a very strong feeling in favour of such a tribunal. In view of all those facts, I do not think it would be doing justice to this Committee if further consideration were not given by the Government to the proposals put forward by my right hon. Friend today.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ 1.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Assheton
I beg to move, in page 2, line 35, to leave out from "of," to the end, and to insert:sums payable by that person or body whether by way of debt or under a trust or otherwise.This Amendment deals with a comparatively restricted point, and seeks to change the words "debts due from that 682 person or body" to those mentioned in the Amendment. I do not know whether these words are necessarily acceptable to the right hon. Gentleman, but the Amendment raises a point which, I think, is of some importance to trustees and others whose position does not appear to be absolutely clear under the Bill. For example, if a trust of British property happens to have had a German national as a trustee, then it would very likely fall under the definition of German enemy property. But it seems clear to me that such property should not be regarded as generally available for the satisfaction of the general body of German enemy creditors but should be specifically appropriated for the benefit of whoever may be the beneficiaries under the trust.
I quite believe that that is the intention of the Government and it may be that the right hon. Gentleman can give me some assurance on this point and can assure me that this Amendment is not necessary. I shall be satisfied if he can assure me that the object I seek to achieve is already achieved in the Bill. If not. I shall be very much obliged if he will accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
In so far as I understand what the right hon. Gentleman said—and I am not quarrelling with the way he put it—I am not sure that the cases he has in mind are not covered by the definition of "debts" already in the Bill, and, if so, the cases come within the four corners of the Bill. If the kind of obligation by a German debtor to a United Kingdom creditor, as defined in the Bill, does not cover what he mentioned, I am sorry that at the moment we cannot extend the classes to whom the Bill will apply. It is not now confined to commercial debts; anyone who feels he has a claim will be able to submit it. It seems to me that the type of case which the right hon. Gentleman envisages would be covered by Clause 1 (1) of the Bill, and that that claim could be lodged.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. Assheton
I beg to move, in page 2, line 35, at the end, to insert:Provided that such Order in Council shall not debar persons from being considered as claimants under this Act for the balance of their claims which have not been satisfied under this subsection.683 This Amendment suggests that an Order in Council should not debar people who have already received partial satisfaction of their claims, by exercising the option, from claiming on the pool for the balance of their claims. I know this raises a difficult point, and I feel that the Financial Secretary should inform us clearly what is his view on the matter. I rather gathered from the previous discussion on this subject that the Government did not intend to allow a creditor who has exercised the option against specific assets, and who finds that those specific assets satisfy only part of his claim, to claim for the balance against the general pool.
I should like the Financial Secretary to explain why that decision has been taken. I could not agree with the argument used at one point in the discussion—I think it was by the Economic Secretary, although I am not quite sure—that it is largely a matter of accident whether certain creditors have debtors who possess assets in this country. I am not quite sure whether that is a sound argument because in many cases, and particularly in the case of standstill creditors, I should have thought that the fact that the debtors have assets in this country is the result of deliberate forethought on the part of the creditors and is not a pure accident. At any rate, I should like to have the Financial Secretary's views on the point.
The other argument which was advanced, and which I thought had some weight, was the argument that, in so far as individual creditors are discouraged from exercising the option against specific assets, there will be a loss of foreign exchange to the country as a whole. The suggestion is that there would be a lower total claim on the general pool than would be the case if people were not discouraged from exercising the option. The argument about the loss of foreign exchange is an extremely complicated one into which I do not propose to enter here, although I am more than prepared to discuss it in greater detail with the Financial Secretary at any time, if he would care to do so. I think this Amendment deserves serious consideration, and I should be much obliged if the Financial Secretary would let us have his views on the matter.
§ Mr. Drayson
I, too, hope that the Financial Secretary will look at this Amendment seriously, and will revise some of the things he said on Second Reading. I am sorry that the Secretary for Overseas Trade is not to reply on this point because I think we are still left in some doubt, following what he told us on Second Reading, as to exactly how we stand in this country under the various percentages set out in Article 1 of the Paris Agreement. The suggestion made by the Secretary for Overseas Trade was that under certain circumstances we might not get the 28 per cent. of category A to which we were entitled. That seems to have some bearing on the question of to what extent creditors were able to claim against specific assets, which were earmarked, in this country.
A scheme was put forward, I think by my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles), that those creditors who were able to make a claim against specific assets, despite having exercised the option—and it is the option which I am criticising—should not be precluded thereafter from participating in any distribution which might take place under Category A of the Paris Agreement. I hope the Government have reconsidered this, and that they will adopt a scheme whereby if a secured creditor is able to claim, say, 6d. or 1s. in the £, that amount will be taken into account when he makes a further claim on the general pool. I cannot see why the Government seek to exclude these secured creditors from further participation in the general pool. That is the purpose of our Amendment today. The important point is that we should have it stated that, whatever the ultimate sum available under Category A or Category B, our percentages remain as stated under the Paris Agreement.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
Let me answer the last point first. Strange though it may sound, I can visualise circumstances in which we would not receive 28 per cent. of our share. On the other hand, it has been laid down that, under Category A 28 per cent. of whatever the proceeds may be should come to us—and whatever the size of the amount, 28 per cent. is 28 per cent. That, I think, is the difficulty the hon. Gentleman has not unnaturally come up against, and why he failed to understand a passing reference by my 685 hon. Friend the Secretary for Overseas Trade in his Second Reading speech. These are technical matters and I do not want to go into them too deeply, but under the Agreement there is provision whereby those States who have a surplus of assets under one category are able to transfer it to the other category. The United States happens to be the only nation in that position, and she already has taken or will take advantage of this provision, which will mean that she will get assets which would otherwise, if I understand the matter rightly, have gone into the pool.
As to the suggestion itself, I must make it clear that no creditors have any rights in this matter. Under the Potsdam Agreement and the Paris Agreement which followed these assets belong to the British Government. The British Government—I think very properly, and I imagine the Committee thinks very properly—are proceeding, under this Bill, to distribute those assets in so far as they will go, to certain categories of people. However, I want to make it clear from the very start that although this option is given to a creditor who is able to pursue the assets of his debtor here it is not given as a right but is given ex gratia, because these assets accrue to the British taxpayer. That fact must not be lost sight of.
The Amendment seeks to add to the option given under the Bill a further right to proceed against the pool. As the Committee knows, a creditor in this country against a German debtor can, under this Bill, if he is so minded, go against the assets of his German debtor which he knows are here. The Amendment seeks to allow him, not only to do that but, if he is not satisfied—as in most cases he will not be—to have a claim for the balance of what is due to him against the pool. That would mean there would be so much less for other people who have just as much a claim on these assets as he has. In any case, if the Bill were not passed, and if things were allowed to take their course, it would follow that his only redress would be against the assets of his debtor, and he would then get no more than he is now to get under the terms of the Bill. I therefore fail to see, from the point of view of rough justice—
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
—that such a person has any grievance. He is to be allowed to choose—which is more than others are allowed to do—and he can take whatever course best suits him and is to his advantage. All things considered, I think that is not unfair, and I hope the Committee will see it in that light and will not press the Amendment.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ 1.15 p.m.
§ Mr, S. Silverman
I beg to move, in page 3, line 3, at the end, to insert:Provided that, without prejudice to the generality of this subsection, the Board of Trade shall so exercise its powers hereunder as to give full effect to Part III of the Rules of Accounting for German External Assets approved by the Assembly of the Inter-Allied Reparations Agency on the twenty-first day of November, nineteen hundred and forty-seven.Perhaps I might refer, in passing, to a later Amendment, to Clause 8, which seeks to amend the definition of "German national," because the Rules of Accounting for German External Assets referred to in this Amendment are summarised in that later Amendment. I hope I can do that without prejudice to my right to say something on my later Amendment.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Diamond)
Yes, provided the hon. Gentleman is merely making a reference to it.
§ Mr. Silverman
It seems to me that in this Amendment we have the crux of the principal matter we have been debating today. The argument between those of us who have been criticising the Measure on this point has not been whether the Government propose to apply the right principles, but has been rather whether the right principles should be left to the administrative discretion of the Department, ultimately, no doubt, answerable to the House of Commons for what they do, or whether the principles, which are agreed to be the right principles, should be embodied in the Bill itself so as to be statutory provisions, with all that that involves.
If rights which are agreed to be there, and which the Government agrees to observe, are not made actual statutory rights there ought to be some very good reason for not doing it. It does not seem 687 to me that there can be any insuperable objection to making the rights statutory when one remembers that the United States of America, faced with exactly the same problem and with an acceptance of exactly the same principles, and bound in exactly the same way as the British Government are bound by international agreement to give effect to those rights, have seen fit to embody their obligations in their own American legislation. That seems to establish that there can be no insuperable objection to doing it, and if there is no insuperable objection to doing it I think the Government ought to do it.
I am fortified in that opinion by the attitude of the Government to a previous Amendment which sought to establish an appeal tribunal. If there is to be no kind of appeal, no kind of third party judgment, and no machinery to review decisions administratively—and the Government have turned down all those suggestions—the case for putting the agreed rights into the Bill and giving them the force of a statute is considerably strengthened. Unless some Amendment of this kind is accepted by the Government it is a little doubtful whether they have any right at all under this Bill to discharge the obligations which they have internationally. Those obligations have been defined in Part III of the Rules of Accounting of German External Assets, approved by the Assembly of the Inter-Allied Reparations Agency on 21st November, 1947.
The only thing I can find in the whole of the Bill which gives the Government any power at all to exempt any asset of any kind from confiscation in this way is in subsection (6). That subsection is so wide and so undefined as to be ambiguous. It states:Notwithstanding anything in this section, the Board of Trade may give a direction to the administrator requiring him to transfer to or for the benefit of any person specified in the direction any German enemy property, or the proceeds of any German enemy property, to which that person would have been entitled but for the operation of the Trading with the Enemy Act, 1939, or any order made thereunder, and the administrator shall comply with any such direction.That gives him power to give away the whole of the property if he wants to; but no one supposes that he is going to do that. The Clause is there in order that he shall have an escapement in suitable 688 cases from seizing the property. All I am suggesting is that he should have it in the Bill. That would not in any way prejudice his powers to give directions in any other class of case in which he might feel it right to give such direction; but I want the Bill to define in part the discretion, and to define it according to the obligations which the Government have already internationally assumed.
I want my right hon. Friend to agree to put into the Bill that these powers. without prejudice to their generality in any way, shall, at any rate, be so exercised as to exempt from seizure, so that he may give directions not to exercise what would otherwise be a statutory right… any person who was deprived of liberty pursuant to any German law, decree, or regulation discriminating against any political or religious or racial group or other organisation who did not enjoy full rights of citizenship at any time between the first day of September, nineteen hundred and thirty-nine, and the abrogation of such law, who has left Germany or intends to leave Germany within a reasonable time after the passing of this Act who did not act against the cause of the United Kingdom and her Allies during the war …That language is not mine. It is the language in which the Government itself accepted this obligation in agreement with other Powers faced with the same right and accepting the same obligations. I am only asking that in the powers which the Board of Trade have to give direction to allow persons to retain property which otherwise would be subject to the Trading with the Enemy Act and not giving these directions, he shall exercise his power to give directions so as to give effect to these exceptions to which he already regards himself as bound.
It seems to me that that is not a great deal to ask. We are not asking for any point of principle; we are agreed about the principle. We are not asking on any point of justice; we are agreed about that. We are not asking about any powers to act not in accordance with those proposed, because we are agreed on that, and the Clause itself gives power to the President of the Board of Trade so to act. We are not asking about anything at all, except about a small piece of machinery about which there ought not to be any real dispute and about which there cannot be any fundamental controversy. If this Clause were accepted, the President of the Board of Trade would not be 689 called upon to act in any way in which he does not propose to act now.
Something was said by an hon. Gentleman opposite with reference to the cases I quoted about the Custodian himself. I quite agree with what he said. There is no reasonable criticism on personal grounds that can be made against the Custodian. He is a man, so far as one can judge, with large and generous sympathies in these matters, and yet he has come to a series of conclusions which, I think, are so wrong as to be indefensible. That was not because of ill-will or malice; it was, no doubt, because he regarded himself as the trustee for the whole body of claimants and felt bound to exercise his duties and discretions strictly in defence of what he no doubt regarded as trust property; but the result has been that he has come to a number of very unjust conclusions.
I should have thought that the Custodian and the administrator, when appointed under the Bill would have welcomed such a definition of the wide discretionary powers which subsection (6) contains; not a definition which limits or compels him to exercise his discretionary powers in those cases and those cases only, but a definition which leaves him free to exercise them whenever he has a mind to do so, but which, nevertheless, defines them in such a way as to see that the proper effect is given to all the considerations to which everyone wants effect to be given. I can see no reason why this Amendment should not be accepted, and I hope that I can prevail upon my right hon. Friend to accept it.
§ Mr. Bottomley
May I say that we have every sympathy with the general expressions of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), but we think that the Amendment is unnecessary. It is unnecessary because it is well-known that the policy followed by the Government, and of which the House has been informed continually, is one whereby we exercise discretionary powers in acordance with the accounting rules provided by the Inter-Allied Reparations Agency.
I think that it is true to say—and the hon. Member has confirmed it—that we try to observe these undertakings. The Board of Trade under this standard has the exercise of discretionary powers 690 which it often uses, and we have often gone beyond the rules laid down by the International Allied Reparations Agency. We are not allowed to submit to the Agency an accounting adjustment in those cases. We have to accept responsibility. So far as I understand it, the rules as laid down are accepted and can be interpreted either loosely, or strictly according to the letter of the law. We feel that if we accept the Amendment the interpretation must be strictly in accordance with the law, which would be laid down. We feel this would not give us the discretion which we think is desirable. The Amendment, if accepted, would be a part of the law of the land and every word of the rules would be subject to judicial interpretation, and we do not think we should get the best out of it.
§ Mr. Silverman
Surely that is not so. If the Amendment were accepted no doubt every person who could bring himself strictly and literally in the narrowest sense within the rules would be able to get his claim met, and could, no doubt, get the courts, if necessary, although I do not suppose it would be necessary, to assist him. It would not follow that the Custodian could not do the same thing in cases which were in within the spirit of the thing, but not within its narrow letter, because the Amendment includes the words:Without prejudice to the generality of this subsection.If there were any cases in which the Custodian felt that he was precluded from giving effect to the claim by the narrow construction of the rules he could, nevertheless, fall back on the generality of his powers under the subsection; it seems to me that the difficulty is not a real one.
§ 1.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Bottomley
We do not think that is so. These rules have been drawn up by laymen, not by lawyers, and so long as they are subject to ordinary interpretation we can use discretion in implementing decisions. If we put these rules into the Bill, with whatever qualifications we may try to make, we should feel under an obligation to apply the rules as laid down. We believe it is in the best interests to leave it as it is, so that discretion can be exercised and can be challenged in the way that it has been today. It is the policy of the Government to do 691 all they can to assist, and I hope that in these circumstances my hon. Friend will withdraw his Amendment.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I am not convinced by the argument. My hon. Friend says that the reason why he does not want this Amendment is because it would limit the interpretation of the rules too narrowly, whereas he wants to interpret them widely. That is the exact opposite to what has taken place so far; otherwise the whole point of the case I have cited is lost. I cannot see that the difficulties he referred to are real difficulties. I can see no reason why, if we agreed that a man who was deprived of his liberty on certain grounds should be exempt from this, there should be anything wrong in satisfying the administrator, and if not him the court, that declarations of liberty for this purpose mean exactly the same thing as the common law of this country.
§ Mr. Bottomley
What we are discussing at the moment is a few cases Out of the dozens we have dealt with. If we had followed the line here suggested, the hon. Member might have been able to quote many more cases in this Debate.
§ Mr. Silverman
If the line suggested in the Amendment had been followed, we should not be bothered with the matter at all. Anyone who was discontented could have had a judicial interpretation and would have had to have been satisfied with that. Surely that is very much better than the House of Commons, which is not a very suitable body for the purpose, having to review, as a court of appeal, decisions in intricate and specific cases. I should have thought it obvious, if this Amendment had been the law. that we should have been saved from discussing particular cases.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
§ Mr. Assheton
Probably, like other Members, I 'have received a certain number of letters from holders of Dawes and Young Loans, both of which are referred to in Clause 8, which is the interpretation Clause. The Committee will remember that these Loans were issued in 1924 and 1930, during both years, if I remember rightly, we had a Labour Government. Both of these Loans were 692 isssued with the sympathy and encouragement of the Governments of the day. At present, the holders of these Loans are receiving no interest, and have not been receiving any interest for a long time, and there is a great deal of anxiety on this point.
I had a letter only this morning from a constituent of mine who says she is a poor old widow, partially disabled, living in an attic. She is very anxious to know whether or not she will get anything as a result of this Bill. The Bill is a complicated one, I know, and does not deal with the whole question of German reparations, but only with the distribution of enemy property held or controlled under the Trading with the Enemy Act. If the Financial Secretary can say something which will give encouragement to the holders of these two Loans, I am sure it will be very much welcomed.
I read with interest the letter of Sir Otto Niemeyer in "The Times" last Monday. He clearly took the view that the claims of these bond holders, directly secured as they were, and I have been looking up the security, of the Dawes Loan, which is about as secure a bond as one could possibly have without having the specific cash in the bank to meet it—would appear to be, if anything, more deserving than debts connected with the hazards and profits of trading. I am not sure whether that is so or not, but I should like some guidance on the point.
In reply to a question put to him in another place on 18th January, 1949, Lord Pakenham said that the rules of the inter-Allied Reparations Agency required that claims of this kind must be filed before 24th January, 1949. I should like to know whether that is the position, and whether there has been any modification since.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
I hope that for once I shall be able to give the right hon. Gentleman satisfaction in my reply. I think he was only putting the question to me in order to get it on the record, because, as he knows, holders of the Dawes and Young Loans are participaters in this Bill and will be able to lodge their claims, as, of course, will others. It is not for me at this juncture, because the policy is now definitely laid down in the Bill, to say whether they should or should not come before other 693 commercial creditors, or what is known as the "standstill" creditor. That policy has been worked out after long discussions in the past, and it appears to us to be reasonable, in view of the assets available and of the surrounding circumstances of the various creditors in this country. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the holders of the Dawes and Young Loans are in a particular category and worthy, if it is possible, of prior consideration, but almost everyone with a claim can put forward some reason why he should be included. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will agree that what we have done is right, and will assure his constituent that her case is covered. The answer to the second point is "Yes."
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Clauses 2 to 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.