HC Deb 23 October 1953 vol 518 cc2298-300

11.15 a.m.

Sir Lynn Ungoed-Thomas (Leicester, North-East)

I beg to move, in page 4, line 11, after "control," to insert: and if the property were dealt with in the circumstances specified in paragraph (a) of sub-section (1) of section two of this Act, the said property or the value thereof shall be recoverable from the competent authority to the same extent as it would have been recoverable from the person mentioned in the said paragraph (a) if this Act had not been passed. This matter was discussed at some length in Committee and I do not propose to go over the ground again. The point was that where a person had transferred property to the custodian and the custodian had sold it and parted with the proceeds, it seemed to us, and I think it was agreed, that there was no remedy. This appeared to raise an injustice, and even British people might be affected. The hon. Gentleman was good enough to say that he would look at that and consider what could be done.

Mr. Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)

I beg to second the Amendment.

I am rather perturbed about the position which occurred after the war. I have been examining some of the answers given in the reply to the points raised by my hon. and learned Friend and myself. Certain agreements were made with allied Governments under which, in my view, there was a complete disregard of owner rights and property was returned to the Governments instead of the owners. I wish to give one illustration. Property was returned to the Polish Government in the belief that the owner was a Pole, while in fact he was French. These inter-governmental agreements seem to me to be an infringement of private owner rights. They affect some persecuted people, particularly Polish Jews who fled from Poland, very seriously indeed, because they appear to close all possibility of any attempt by the rightful owners to recover these properties or to obtain any compensation for them.

The point was made during the debate that the time for making claims by owners had been open for a considerable period, but I would point out that people behind the Iron Curtain, for example, in Russia, Poland and Czechoslovakia, obviously could not be expected to have sued yet for their property rights in this country. Indeed allies and neutrals residing in Germany did not have the right to sue before July, 1951. I should like to have some explanation about what can be done in those cases and whether the Government are prepared to make a statement, even if there is to be no legal to right to sue, about what will happen with regard to ex gratia compensation, though I should like to see a legal right to do so pursued.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Henry Strauss)

I shall respond to the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas) and not repeat anything which was said last time. I shall confine myself to the result of the consideration which it was promised that my hon. and learned Friend and I would give to all the points put by the hon. and learned Member.

I wish to put three points to the hon. and learned Member and to the House. I think he will agree that the case he adumbrated as a possibility and in which injustice might result, involved a double error; the error of non-enemy property being treated as enemy property by the custodian in the first instance followed by the error of releasing the proceeds of sale to the wrong person. That, theoretically, does not sound as if it will ever happen.

The second point I would put is that, so far as our recollection goes, we can think of no case where that is alleged to have happened and that may comfort the hon. and learned Member as to the possible actual scope.

In those circumstances, I think it appropriate that if a case arose in which grave hardship had occurred to British or allied persons, within the scope of the statement made by my right hon. Friend on Second Reading, it might be one to be considered for an ex gratia payment. I do not want to roam widely over the Clause, except so far as it is raised in this Amendment in answer to the hon. and learned Member. Where money has been paid over to an administrator of enemy property, in some cases there is under Statute a right of recovery; but as far as the ex gratia payment is concerned, I cannot add to what was said on Second Reading.

Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas

I am obliged to the hon. and learned Gentleman. I am relieved to hear that there is no known case within the ambit of our fear. I recognise that there has to be the double event before the case which we had in mind would arise. Perhaps it is not unreasonable in those circumstances that, rather than trying to alter further a Bill of this complexity, the matter could be dealt with conveniently in the way that has been suggested. We do not like leaving it in that form. We should very much prefer to see this as a right included in the Bill; but, in the circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.