HC Deb 09 June 1964 vol 696 cc242-6
The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. R. A. Butler)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to make a statement about the signing of an Agreement with the Federal German Republic for the compensation of British victims of Nazi persecution.

I am glad to announce that the Federal German Government have agreed to pay to Her Majesty's Government the sum of £1 million to compensate certain British victims of measures of Nazi persecution, that is to say, United Kingdom nationals, who, as a result of such measures, suffered loss of liberty or damage to their health, and the dependants of those who died as a result of such measures.

The Agreement comes into force on signature and is not subject to ratification. The text will be available to the House tomorrow afternoon. Following the pattern set in other bilateral agreements on compensation made by the Federal German Republic, distribution of the sum is left to the discretion of Her Majesty's Government.

As soon as possible we shall call for claims, at which stage those who consider themselves eligible in accordance with the terms of the registration notice, to which wide publicity will be given, should make application.

I trust that the House will welcome the Agreement.

Mr. Gordon Walker

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that certainly on this side of the House, and I am sure on both sides, hon. Members welcome this Agreement? I should like to ask him one or two questions. What he said, following the pattern set in other bilateral agreements seems to imply some delay in coming to this Agreement in regard to this country. Would he comment on that? If there has been delay, will he tell us why?

Can he say whether, broadly speaking, the rate of compensation for British people who have suffered from this persecution is equivalent to the rate of compensation of other nationals? What is meant by "measures of Nazi persecution"? Does it mean people who have been in concentration camps, or does it go further than that, because there were many forms of Nazi persecution?

Mr. Butler

There is no doubt that it has taken a long time to reach this Agreement. It has been a very difficult negotiation. I am glad that we have reached agreement with the Federal German Government at a figure which I think compares very favourably, considering the number of applicants we assume there will be, with those made with other countries.

I cannot give the rate of compensation until we get the claims in as a result of the registration notice to which I have referred in my statement. The right hon. Gentleman asked about the proportions. Judging by the numbers that we think are eligible—I say "we think", because we cannot prove this until we get the claims—we think that the proportion should rate very favourably with the agreements made with other countries.

Answering the right hon. Gentleman's other question, I think that we had better wait for the registration notice. We cannot define "Nazi persecution" exactly today. I must ask the House to wait for the registration notice, and I must say that it is essentially for those who have been in concentration camps.

Mr. Neave

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the very general relief which will be felt in the House and elsewhere at the fact that these victims of Nazi ideology are at long last to be compensated? Will my right hon. Friend say, in respect of the various categories, what preparatory work has so far been done to divide them into Service people who were in concentration camps, Channel Islanders, and other civilians, including resistance workers? When will the process of registration begin?

Mr. Butler

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for his statement of welcome. As regards the preparatory work, we have done our best to see what the numbers will be, but we have come to the conclusion that, pending the signing of the Agreement, we could not reach a final list. We therefore propose to make a registration notice in which the terms of eligibility ought to be clear, or at least clear enough for the applicants to make their claims. When they make their claims, we shall then be able to decide upon them.

Mr. H. Wilson

Perhaps this will be clear from a close study of the statement, but will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the scheme will apply to those British subjects who suffered from Nazi persecution not only in the area covered by the Federal German Government today, but, for example, in Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland?

Mr. Butler

The term "Nazi persecution" is taken to cover any area in which Nazi persecution took place.

Dame Irene Ward

I thank my right hon. Friend for his own personal work in this matter, which, I am sure, is much appreciated by both sides of the House. Is he quite certain, since the lists have not yet been properly prepared, that the sum is sufficient adequately to cover what we think is due to these people, in comparison with what has been awarded to other countries, such as France? If not, is there to be any arrangement with the Federal German Government that, if when the lists are prepared it is found that the sum is not sufficient and is not generous, we shall be able to ask for some more? Would my right hon. Friend bear in mind that many of us think that this is very important, since we have not been able to get any facts from my right hon. Friend about how many people are likely to be involved?

Mr. Butler

I could not undertake that the matter would be reopened with the Federal German Government, because we shall only just this afternoon be signing the Agreement with them. From the preparatory work which has been done, it is our opinion that this sum will cover the claims which we have in mind.

Sir B. Janner

May I also congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the very long and strenuous struggle that he has maintained in getting as far as he has got? Is he aware that in certain circumstances compensations are being contemplated by the Federal German Government which are not consistent with the amount of injury sustained by the victims of Nazi persecution? Is he satisfied with the answer he gave to the hon. Lady, that we shall not be in a position at some future time to reopen the matter in the event of the amount being not at all sufficient to cover the claims?

Further, during the course of the negotiations which are likely to take place in future, will he bear in mind that many British subjects, as well as others, who want to lodge claims for compensation or restitution in respect of injuries received and property lost owing to Nazi persecution are unable to do so because their claims had not been lodged by October, 1953? Will he please go into that matter at the same time?

Mr. Butler

The answer to the last part of the; hon. Gentleman's question is that I will see that that point is investigated. The answer to the earlier point is that the discretion lies with Her Majesty's Government and not with the Federal German Government.

Mr. P. Williams

I welcome this Agreement, but would my right hon. Friend accept that the figure of £1 million appears to be slightly suspect and rather small? Can he tell the House how the figure was arrived at? Will he make it quite clear that, should the House wish to reopen the matter, it will be able to do so and have the figure enlarged?

Mr. Butler

I do not think that we can judge whether the figure is adequate until we see the claims coming it. In relation to the facts that we have and the numbers of cases we have in mind, we think that this Agreement and the amount is sufficient to cover those who will make claims. Reopening the matter is for the House, but I think that today we must accept that the Agreement has been signed.

Mr. Gordon Walker

May we take it for granted that the victims of Nazi persecution in the Channel Islands are included in the arrangement?

Mr. Butler

I could not go further into that this afternoon. I will answer the right hon. Gentleman at another time.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

We must get on. There is no Question before the House.