HL Deb 22 December 1919 vol 38 cc479-502

VISCOUNT BRYCE rose to call attention to the poverty, disease, and suffering that now prevail in Austria due to the scarcity of food and the extreme depreciation of the currency; and to ask His Majesty's Government what steps it is proposed to take to avert the impending danger of a terrible famine in that country.

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, most of your Lordships are so familiar with the state of misery and destitution which prevails in large parts of Central Europe that I need say but little in addressing this Question to His Majesty's Government and bespeaking their earnest consideration of a matter which has now become fraught with danger. The condition of some parts of Central Europe, and particularly the condition of the countries to which I specially wish to call your Lordships' attention—Austria, and Austria-Hungary, and Poland—is now in some respects worse than it was during the war. During the war there was, in all these parts of the world which are now suffering most acutely, at any rate excitement, suspense, and hope—hope for a better state of things after the war—which occupied men's minds and to some extent distracted them from the sufferings of the moment. But now that state of things is passed, the hopes have not been realised, the sky is as dark as it was before the war and in some respects darker, for to that excitement and suspense there have now succeeded lassitude, apathy, and despair. The people in these regions have been so demoralised by suffering that they are scarcely able to work, even if the raw materials could be obtained. There are many parts of Europe to which what I have said applies, but it applies with particular force to Hungary and to Austria, and to-night I desire to call your Lordships' attention to Austria in particular.

I have very few figures with which to trouble your Lordships, but I may give one short set which will help you to realise the state of things at this moment. In 1916 the rations on which the people of Vienna were living were these: 2½ lbs. of bread, 1 lb. of flour, ½ lb. of dried vegetables, and 2 ounces of fat per week, and once a fortnight 5 ounces of meat. This is what they were trying to support life upon in 1916, of course sinking deeper and deeper physically under the suffering which these scant rations inflicted. In those days they had for fuel 2¼ lbs. of coal per week and 2¼ lbs. of wood, with which they had both to warm and cook for themselves. Now the rations are one-half of what they were then. That which was not enough properly to support life three years ago is reduced by one-half, and those rations, according to the latest information received from Vienna, are very often not forthcoming, and after January 8 next my information goes to show that there is no more food in sight and that unless help is given very speedily the people will be faced with absolute starvation. The stocks, such as they are now, will probably be exhausted unless supplies come in.

With such tiny rations your Lordships will not be surprised to hear that the state of misery is frightful over what is left of the ancient Austrian Monarchy. The case of Vienna is the worst, but other towns such as Innsbruck and Salzburg are scarcely less bad, and things have got to this pitch, that I know of one family in particular, the head of which is one of the most distinguished men in Europe in his own particular line of study, and which is now barely kept alive; and when that is the case with a family in that position in life, your Lordships may realise what are the sufferings of the poor. The emaciated bodies of the workpeople are scarcely any longer able to work, even if they had materials to work with or markets in which to sell. The cold is terrible. Well-to-do-people in Vienna are burning their furniture in stoves to keep themselves warm. Disease is frightfully prevalent. The hospitals are full, and they have to turn away patients every day. Medical aid is insufficient, and there is a hick of drugs. The case is particularly bad as regards the children, who are dying at a terrible rate. The percentage is very large in Hungary, and I think it is worse in Austria. In Hungary it is one-fourth. Then an enormous number of the children in the hospitals are affected with rickets, a disease which will probably leave them only half fit for work for the rest of their lives. Tuberculosis, as always happens when food and physical condition are reduced, is growing apace and will carry off its victims during the next few months or years. Of hunger I have already spoken. Now take the addition of cold. One of those from whom I have received a report says, "You can just stand hunger alone and cold alone, but you cannot bear up against cold and hunger together. You lose all hope of trying to save yourself when you are suffering physically from both these causes." Hunger and cold combined must be expected, as has often happened before, to drive men to suicide or violence.

The causes which have brought about this terrible state of things are pretty well known to your Lordships. In the first place there are no crops. The only part of Austria which provides enough food at home for its people is the Arch-Duchy of Upper Austria. The rest of the Austrian Sate—Lower Austria, Styria, Carinthia, and Tyrol—do not provide enough food. Food has to be imported. Austria in time of peace used to derive the chief part of its wheat from Hungary, which, as your Lordships know, is a very rich corn-growing country. Now there is nothing to come from it. The Rumanian armies were unfortunately permitted to advance through Transylvania and through Hungary into Budapest itself, and when they retired they swept the country bare. They carried off everything. They looted the country right and left, taking away with them the furniture and the very blankets from the hospitals. They carried off also all the railway stock and locomotives, and there is nothing to be now obtained I from Hungary. This, along with the other results of the war, has left the railways practically paralysed, and even where there is food there is at present no means of conveying it. Transportation has come to an end. There is coal in Bohemia, but whether owing to the want of transport or whether because it is supposed to be needed there, there is no coal coming into Vienna, and the want of fuel is such that the people are going out into that beautiful forest country which lies south-west of Vienna trying to cut wood for themselves and carrying it in on their backs to get a little warmth. Austria, in fact, has been practically blockaded as regards both fuel and food for many months, and the only quarter from which any food arrives is Italy, whence some wheat and maize are brought to Innsbruck.

To add to all these things there is a tremendous depreciation of the currency.

The Austrian krone, which was worth before the war tenpence, has now sunk to 3 per cent. of its face value, and is worth no more than a farthing, so that even where there is a trifle of food to buy there are very few people who can afford to buy it. It is very hard to understand how such a fall in the currency could not have been foreseen. How comes it that so little foresight or so little insight was shown in the framing of the Peace Treaty and its imposition upon Austria when the result of it has been to impose an intolerable load upon that country, which the Peace Treaty has already made bankrupt. Everybody saw when that Treaty was published that its only result would be to ruin the country. Now Austria is bankrupt, and yet it has this tremendous load of indemnities to support—indemnities which even a prosperous State carrying on its industries, having an abundance of raw material and a population fit to work, would not be able to discharge.

It is an astonishing thing to us to feel that famine, which we used to think of as a thing that had disappeared from civilised countries, which we read of with pity but with wonder and strangeness when we had reports of it from the Far East and other countries in which there is a meagre population and deficient means, should come to stalk through the centre of Europe, through once civilised countries, and should even descend upon a city like Vienna, which we remember as a centre of gaiety and luxury. And behind the starvation, there is the grim spectre of violence and anarchy. May I read a few words from a recent speech of Sir William Goode, our Director of Relief, in which he refers in passing to that subject. He says— When I was in Vienna I felt as if I had been spending ten days in a condemned cell. It seems to me you cannot trifle with starvation and privation in Central Europe such as prevail there to-day without running the risk of a carnival of Bolshevism which would probably not be confined to this Continent. Anyone with half an eye in his head must realise that if, as a result of apparently legitimate grievances, the forces of unrest are loosed in the heart of Europe, the whole world—the United States as well as ourselves—will be menaced.

In such a state of things England cannot stand aside. A fund is being raised by private subscription under the presidency of Sir Frederick Jackson, whose name is well known to you all, and already I am glad to say that private liberality is responding to this fund. But private liberality will not be enough. British generosity has already done much for Central Europe, and the Government, I frankly acknowledge, has done a great deal. The private liberality of the United States, too, has been abundantly forthcoming for the alleviation of suffering in Europe and in other parts of the world. But that is not enough. I earnestly hope that His Majesty's Government realises, as I believe they do realise, the gravity and urgency of this matter, and that they will represent it in the clearest and strongest way to the Allied and Associated Powers. It is not for me to suggest to the Government the particular means by which they should proceed or the particular conditions or methods that are best fitted to meet the emergency, but I trust the Government will proceed at once to examine them, for there is no time to lose. I believe also that when the matter is brought to the knowledge of the Allied and the Associated Powers they also will realise how serious is the emergency.

Were this the time for dwelling on the resultant economic evils which lie in the background, I could say much. Britain and her Allies will have to consider what must be done to bring about a freer interchange of commodities between parts of the now vanished Austro-Hungarian Monarchy which have hitherto been inter-dependent, where the things required by one were supplied by the others, but in each of which artificial barriers are now being set up that act to the injury of all. But that is a large question upon which I do not ask your Lordships to enter now. Such barriers aggravate the present situation, and need to be removed, but for the moment I pass by those economic difficulties, present and future, in order to make this appeal in the name of humanity and of compassion.


My Lords, I am sure that we are indebted to my noble friend for the Question that he has addressed to His Majesty's Government and in particular for the facts which he has brought before your Lordships. I interpose only for one brief moment with the object of impressing, if I may, upon the Government the necessity for taking not only urgent steps but steps of a. particular kind. In the very early part of this year, as my noble friend the Leader of the House will know, I represented His Majesty's Government in the Economic Council in Paris. This, among other matters, was before us, and was discussed at considerable length. I do not mean that at that particular moment we foresaw the state of distress and famine into which Austria-Hungary would be plunged at the end of this year, but it was realised that the situation throughout Europe was very grave, and required measures to be adopted by the Allied Powers in order that relief and alleviation might be given. I had the opportunity of discussing these matters with His Majesty's Government, and in case I should be misunderstood I desire to say that I am not seeking to impute blame at all to His Majesty's Government. What I wish to impress upon the Government is that by putting off the day of finding the relief which is necessary the catastrophe has become so grave as to be almost past saving at the present moment.

I am well aware of the difficulties that occurred even during the short time that I was still in Paris before I went to America. I know that the difficulty of coming to an agreement with the various Powers concerned was very serious, and that there have been other very large and most important matters with which the Governments have had to deal. But at the present moment all I wish to say is this. I beg of the Government not to allow the time to pass in discussing with the Allies what particular steps are to be taken, but to take steps immediately in order to relieve the country as far as we possibly can. I know that it is a very large burden for us to take, more especially in the condition in which we find ourselves financially. Notwithstanding that, I do not believe that this country, even with the difficulties that confront us financially, will hesitate to find such money as may be necessary—and, after all, it is not so much money as commodities, and food, and articles which are necessary—in order that we may relieve the immediate distress. One knows very well that if discussions have to take place with the various Governments, time must necessarily elapse. It is not easy to arrive at an agreement. Ministers in the various countries have to discuss among themselves what steps they shall take. Then these results have to be discussed again with Ministers of other countries, and in that way inevitably time must pass.

At this moment we cannot allow time to pass. We must, for the sake of humanity, and indeed for the sake of the responsibility which rests upon us—only a responsibility for humanity—do our utmost at this moment, and the Government should do all that it can in order to bring relief to Austria-Hungary as soon as it possibly can be done. Ships, transport, besides the commodities themselves, are of the utmost importance, and it is really only the Government that can provide what is required. Even if money is subscribed by the public in much larger sums than can be expected at this moment it is not sufficient. It is the Government alone that can act with the promptitude and the vigour that is necessary in an emergency of this character.

With such experience as I have had, I would suggest for the consideration of His Majesty's Government that the best way of dealing quickly with a problem of this kind is to appoint a suitable man, to give him the power of the Government, with the limitations which the Government think right to impose, so that he may not have the need at every moment to consult either a number of Ministers or the Allies, but that he may go forward to do what is necessary at this moment, limited, as I can quite readily conceive it must be limited, only to the extent that will enable the Government to do all that is necessary within the next few weeks, otherwise a catastrophe appalling in its character will befall Europe and cannot fail to affect us.


My Lords, I do not know whether I might intervene for a moment, because I have been connected with an association which, during the last year and ever since the Armistice, has been in close connection with Austria and the distressed districts, and which I can assure your Lordships already has been instrumental in sending something like £1,000,000 in immediate aid of distress. I need hardly say to your Lordships that relief of that kind is necessarily wholly inadequate to the needs that exist in Austria at the present moment.

The noble Viscount has referred to the conditions of the hospitals. Dr. Wenkebach, the great Dutch scientist, who has given his life to superintending one of the great Viennese hospitals, came over here not long ago and stated in most appalling terms the conditions of the hospitals of Vienna—namely, that they wanted every condition which would enable them to carry out their duties as hospitals in refer- ence to the wants of the population. I do not wish unnecessarily to emphasise this, because I believe that His Majesty's Government are aware of the grievous conditions in Austria and, as the noble Earl has pointed out, it is a question rather of remedies than of emphasising existing conditions.

Again, as regards the currency and the difficulty of getting commodities in Austria, the other day Dr. Hertz was over here from Austria, and, in explaining the extraordinary want of fuel, said that owing to the depreciation in the currency of Austria he had had to pay £300 for a single ton of coal. That connotes an impossible condition. That is paid for hospital purposes, but really it is impossible under those conditions to get necessary fuel for winter conditions in Austria.

I think I may summarise the position in this way, that the sheer physical suffering owing to the lack of fuel, food, clothing among millions is appalling. The word "appalling" is not my epithet. I took it from an expression used by a very responsible Minister in this country—namely, the Minister of Food Supplies. I will not call your attention to what Sir William Goode said, as that has already been done, and his speech, which was of very recent occurrence, must be in the minds of your Lordships. But let me take a summary from Professor Starling's Report. He reported as a representative of the Government, and his report has been corroborated, I may say, by independent investigation made from private sources. What does it reveal? It reveals, amongst other things, a chronic under-feeding of children so widespread that tuberculosis, rickets, and associated diseases have increased to an incredible extent.

I dare say your Lordships are aware that even in peace times before the war the proportion of tuberculosis in Austria was about double that of most other large town populations, but at the present time it is absolutely appalling "This means lifelong ill health"—I am quoting a summary of Professor Starling's Report—"to millions of the coming generation. In some districts diseases like famine ædema are common." Might I also emphasise the position by quoting what was said by Mr. Hoover, to whom reference is often made in these matters. He stated, according to Le Matin of August 7 this year— Europe and the world are actually in the face of one of the gravest dangers which have ever overtaken mankind. Such investigations as the association with which I am connected is able to make—and we have sent out several investigators—corroborate in every particular what is stated by Professor Starling. Then he further said this in The Times of August 13— Unless productivity can be rapidly increased there can be nothing but political, moral, and economic chaos interpreting itself in loss of life hitherto undreamed of. As your Lordships are aware, Mr. Hoover pointed out more than once, as also did other investigators, that practically no country in Europe (with the exception of Rumania and Russia) is self-supporting. Previous to the war they were dependent on imports from outside. More especially is that true of a country in the position of Austria, because the sources of supply from Bohemia (which is now Czecho-Slovakia) and from Yugo-Slavia have been cut off at the present time. In fact, one of the great difficulties of Austria is—whatever the reason may be, and I do not want to introduce any political element into my speech—that it was not allowed to join up with Germany; on the other hand, no provision was made in order to protect the conditions of the commercial union by which Austria was supplied under the Hapsburg Dynasty.

There is one other quotation I should like to make. This is the result of the investigation of a conference attended by Mr. Keynes, who is very well known to the Government and who is one of the advisers of the Economic Council in Paris, by Sir George Paish of the Treasury, and by Sir William Beveridge.


Sir George Paish was not an official representative.


I thought he was at the beginning of the war.


He was at one time.


What I have here is this: "Sir George Paish, late financial adviser to the Treasury." That, I think, was his position at the commencement of the war; but if the noble Earl will allow me to say so, I do not want to become controversial on questions of that kind. This is what was said with regard to relief measures, though I agree that something immediate must be done— The situation is one which cannot be solved merely by measures of relief, by the mere distribution of food to populations that cannot pay for it. There is only one adequate measure which will meet the menace of the situation and that is to re-establish all the processes of normal economic life among the populations concerned. They must be enabled to get back to normal work and support themselves. No other solution can be adequate. I admit that, when we come to that place in the argument, the solution is an extremely difficult one, but it is a solution we should all try to aid in every possible manner. I myself believe that nothing can restore the normal economic conditions of Europe except something in the nature of credit obtained by a large international loan. Every one must be aware of the difficulties connected with any financial operation of that kind; they have been hinted at by the noble Earl who spoke before me, and I should be the last person to desire to suggest what the remedy should be under conditions of this kind; but I feel in the strongest possible manner that some immediate steps must be taken to avoid the greatest catastrophe of which we know in the history of the human race. Mr. Hoover said that there were 100,000,000 people in Europe for whom food could not be obtained unless we got back to the normal conditions of productivity. However that may be, Austria is now in a state of famine; children and women are dying of starvation in Vienna to-day; and I saw only this afternoon in an evening paper that the last statistics showed that the population of Vienna in a single year had decreased by over 120,000. My only object is to emphasise, and to bring home if I possibly can, the terrible conditions which exist. I believe that His Majesty's Government are aware of them, and I sincerely hope that an immediate and effective remedy may be found for this terrible catastrophe.


My Lords, before the noble Earl gives us, as I am sure he will, a sympathetic answer to the speech of my noble friend, I should like to be permitted to say a few words in connection with a branch of this all-important subject with which I am more particularly associated—namely, the saving of child life in Central Europe. The Motion of my noble friend has, of course, particular reference to Austria, and we must all admit that Austria is very painfully situated. I am not going to discuss the reasons why Austria finds herself isolated (as it were) from all her original sources of supply. The hinterland from which she derived most of her produce for her economic existence has been separated for political reasons, and above all—this is the point on which I think a little stress must be laid—CzechoSlovakia, from which coal and milk were largely derived, I regret to say has taken up an intensely unsympathetic attitude towards the sufferings of the people of Austria. Until a short time ago—I do not know whether any relaxation has recently taken place—they have closed their frontiers and refused to allow any coal, or milk and things of that sort, to be given to the starving population of their former ally and associate, Austria. That has rendered the situation of Vienna particularly distressing.

In Vienna there are something like 500,000 children, and according to the last information received from that city at least 60 per cent. of those children, if not more, are really in want of ordinary food. They are also without clothing; and, as every one knows, Austria is a country in which it is not possible to go about ill-clad in winter because of the cold. The unfortunate little ones are without shoes, and they will have to go through the snow to school if the schools are still only. May I give one painful and deplorable illustration of the situation in Vienna? A friend of mine who left there a few days ago, and who was connected there with a Commission on the part of the Government, told me that he was returning home late one evening and on his way he had to pass down a street which is known to every one acquainted with Vienna—the Kärthnerstrasse—the Bond-street of Vienna. Whilst passing down this street he came across two dead children. What would be said in this country if we came across two dead children in Bond-street? That is a fair parallel to what is occurring in Vienna. I am very conscious that I am pleading now for only one branch of this question in regard to which I am glad to say, thanks to the kindly aid of the leaders of the great religious bodies in this country, private charity is being copiously afforded, but even that is not sufficient for the particular purposes of the children.

Behind this looms the larger question of the people of Austria as a whole, and with regard to them it is essential that the Governments collectively should intervene for the purpose of furnishing with the least possible delay every conceivable necessary of life in order to preserve their lives. Otherwise, I think we shall hear of the most appalling events within a few days from now. I am well aware that the people of America, through the efforts of Mr. Hoover, are coming forward with their ordinary generosity. I should be sorry to place any particular limit upon the amount of money which is being given by the different charitable agencies in America for the purposes of relieving this distress, but from the last communication from Mr. Hoover I think I am right in saying that it would amount to something approaching £15,000,000 or £18,000,000 if continued for the whole year. Yet even that immense sum is not enough; it has, after all, to be distributed between the 100,000,000 people whom Mr. Hoover recognises are in imminent danger of famine in different parts of Europe. In this particular instance of Austria, however—to which the noble Viscount has so ably called attention—it is, I think, of the utmost importance that not a moment should be lost, and that the Governments collectively—I hope the British Government will take the lead in a matter of this kind—should intervene with all material assistance in order to save us from the discredit and disgrace, after being victorious in the great war, of seeing the victims of that war dying from starvation.


My Lords, speaking on be-half of His Majesty's Government I think it a very proper and desirable thing that a discussion should have taken place on this most important subject before the House rises for the recess, and I am certain that no Peer in your Lordships' House, and certainly not I myself, would grudge one minute of the time that has been spent, or that might have been spent even had the debate lasted twice as long, in dealing sympathetically and authoritatively, as the speeches have so far dealt, with the subject that has been brought under our notice.

The four noble Lords who have addressed us have all spoken from ample information, with authority derived from personal contact with the problem in some form or another, and with an earnest desire not in any way to impede, but to facilitate and encourage, the action of the Government.

I am personally grateful to them for the attitude that they assumed. The picture which they have drawn of the condition of affairs in Central Europe—in Austria especially, and in Vienna particularly in Austria—is confirmed by everything that has come to my knowledge. In fact, noble Lords have only to read—and they have had the opportunity of doing so—the speech of Sir William Goode, from which a quotation was made by the noble Viscount, Lord Bryce, to derive an accurate knowledge of the condition of affairs that is not unjustly described by the epithet "appalling" which was more than once applied to it.

It is the case undoubtedly that we are confronted in the whole of Central Europe with a position of economic chaos. The Allied Powers are striving there to build up a new political structure on the shattered remains of an old system, and there has been, I will not say no attempt, but there has not been time, to reorganise this new system on the economic lines which are essential to its durability. Throughout this area we observe everywhere the same symptoms—diminished production, shortage of coal and food supplies, collapse of railway traffic, depreciation of currency, a complete breakdown of exchange; and the result is, as the noble Viscount said, not only to produce a disorganisation which is shocking, but to engender an attitude of lifeless misery and despair among the populations affected.

I turn more particularly to Austria and to Vienna, upon which our attention has been in the main concentrated this afternoon. In Vienna the position is undoubtedly very serious and very sad. I was reading only yesterday a description of life as it exists in Vienna at this moment—at the top, strange and paradoxical as it may seem, a profusion, a luxury, and an extravagance that are scarcely possible to imagine; midway down, the middle classes in a state of poverty and destitution; and at the bottom, a peasantry or a proletariat on the verge of famine. Vienna is a town which, before the war, numbered something like two millions of people. And here again, though it may seem a paradox, it is the case that the population, so far from having been diminished by the process or the consequences of the war, has been largely increased. This is due to the enormous number of refugees that have either fled or have been expelled from surrounding territories, and at the present moment you have a population in Vienna which, I am told, is something like two and a half millions of persons. Thus, you have a capital almost as large as Paris situated in a State almost as small as Switzerland.

One can imagine the economic difficulties that arise from a situation of that description. The features of life in Vienna have been this afternoon quite correctly described. There is a great shortage of milk arising from the depletion in the number of mulch cows, due in this case in the main to the scarcity of fodder; the supplies of milk that used to come in from the surrounding States have largely stopped; and, if I may add to the figures quoted by the noble Viscount yet another, I may mention that since January, 1919, the average delivery of milk in Vienna, which used to be, from the surrounding areas, nine hundred thousand litres per day, has fallen to thirty thousand. You can imagine what an effect that has upon the juvenile classes of the population. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Weardale, who spoke with great sympathy and knowledge upon that point. The children are indeed suffering from a lamentable mortality. The spectacle which he drew of the two corpses of children lying in the street—necessarily sad, but not an uncommon one in Vienna at this moment—was one that must have appealed to every heart in your Lordships' House.

The position in the hospitals is equally bad, not merely because they are, as one noble Lord remarked, filled with cases of tubercular disease, of rickets and other enfeebling complaints, but because there is a shocking dearth in medical staff qualified to attend the patients and in the supplies which are necessary for their operations. However, I need not labour that side of the case. I need not add any more colours to a palette already sufficiently painted with details of horror and distress. Much more important is it for me—and that is why I am called upon to speak—to endeavour to state to your Lordships what the Government have done, what they are doing, and what it is possible for them to do. And here let me endorse the very powerful plea that fell from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice, speaking not only with exceptional authority but with a force that appealed to us all. He asked His Majesty's Government to act. He asked them to cast aside the bonds of precedent or tradition, and to realise that new formulæ had to be invented and fresh action taken in the face of a crisis of unparalleled magnitude. I will endeavour to respond to his appeal in the course of my remarks.

What has been done since this situation began to assume serious shape? In December, 1918, soon after the Armistice was declared, an Inter-Allied Commission was sent out to investigate the needs of the Austrian Empire in particular, and to provide measures for its relief. Later on a permanent Allied Commission was sent out by the Supreme Economic Council of Paris. It was in the beginning of the present year that the British, French, American, and Italian sections of this Commission arrived in Austria. They started at once and arranged for the despatch of cereals and foodstuffs from the Italian ports. Then came what has always been, and remains now, the pivot of the whole question—namely, the provision of credits. No noble Lord has yet paid to the United States Government the compliment of mentioning, as we ought to do, the fact that they made a loan to the Allied Governments of a sum of $48,000,000 to cover the consignments that were made to suffering Austria. From February to the beginning of October of the present year the Allied Relief Commission have provided, and distributed to the Austrians, 300,000 tons of foodstuffs. They have also provided for the import of cereals, meat, and sugar from the neighbouring States.

Attention has been drawn by more than one noble Lord to the difficulties that arise from the disintegration of the old Austria-Hungary into a number of separate, discordant, and often warring communities, and I can hardly exaggerate the complicated nature and the magnitude of the economic difficulties that have arisen, with all these States round about with their different frontiers, their different currencies, their different degrees of depreciation of currency, and all animated in the background by feelings in too many cases the reverse of sympathetic or friendly. That has been a difficulty that we all acknowledge, and I may say that every week, every day that passes we are in communication with these Governments, Czecho-Slovakia, Yugo Slavia, and the others, in the endeavour to mitigate the particular obstacles to which I have referred.

I said just now that no mention had been made of the American loan. No mention either has been made of the £12,500,000 which was the contribution made by this country for the relief of this distressing situation—not, of course, in Austria alone but in all the countries suffering from the effects of war throughout the European Continent. Out of this sum, as I gather, over £4,000,000 has been spent upon Austria, and within the last few days a sum of £250,000 has been released for the provision of fats, whilst at this moment the organisation is proceeding for the dispatch of a number of cargoes of coal from this country to Austria.

There is a remedy of which no mention has been made, but which is now in course of being applied, and that is the attempt to release for the purposes of the relief which is so urgent what I may describe as the liquid assets of the Austrian State. For instance, the Allies have waived their lien on the tobacco monopoly, and they have authorised the Austrian Government to raise a loan on that security for the purchase of food stuffs and of coal. A Dutch group have already made an offer which is under consideration to take over that particular security. I might mention this with reference to the dates that were given. More than one noble Lord spoke of the situation as reaching a crisis that might be disastrous within a few weeks from now, or within at any rate a month from now. I am told that the provision which I have just mentioned will enable the Austrian Government, if it is successfully carried through, as I think will be the case, to carry on for another four months.

Another point. Great Britain and France have proposed, and the United States have agreed—you will see in a moment why the United States are involved—to realise the foreign securities that are held in Austria of which a tentative list has been drawn up, amounting, I believe, to about £3,000,000—and I think that that is below the mark—these securities being now held as security for the United States loan to which I referred just now. The Allied Governments have agreed to the release of those securities for the purchase of food; and the great pictures, which are held in such numbers in Austria and which there is every reason to fear they might be tempted to dispose of in other and illegitimate ways, are being substituted as a security. I should like you to understand that the pictures are not to be taken for I sale; they are being held as a security, and this is being done upon the advice of a Board to which I myself have the honour to belong—the Board of the Trustees of the National Gallery here. There has been placed upon these pictures a valuation which certainly does not err on the side of moderation. Your Lordships would be astonished at the valuation which has been placed on some of these treasures; and they are being taken, if this agreement goes through, as a form of security in order to avoid the sale which must almost inevitably otherwise take place at knock-down prices. That would not only be injurious to the Austrian Government, but it would be a scandal to the art-loving world. I hope, therefore, that something in this nature may be effectually done. Further, the unexpended balance of the American loan of $48,000,000 of which I spoke, is now being expended on the provision of 30,000 tons of bread stuffs which are in course of being sent up from Trieste to relieve the immediate necessities of the hour. So much for the action that is in course of being carried out by Government.

I should not like, standing here, to omit to say a word of cordial and respectful admiration for the relief work that is being carried on by other countries and by other agencies. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Weardale, who alluded to the magnificent contribution that has been made by America and to the splendid personal activities of Mr. Hoover in particular. I had no knowledge that the American contribution had reached the sum to which the noble Lord referred, and I was not quite certain, as he was speaking, how much of that related to Austria—I conclude a very considerable proportion.


I have only seen a telegram on the subject from Mr. Hoover, in which he stated that he hoped that a monthly contribution of $7,500,000 would be made. It is not stated in that telegram how it is to be applied. I assume it is to be applied in all the various famine districts of Europe. I cannot tell to what extent it is to be applied in Austria.


I only hope that Austria will get its share, and a very good share too. But the Americans do not stand alone. Let me inform your Lordships that in addition to the Reparations Sub-Commission which has been sitting at Vienna there has been an International Sub-Commission dealing specially with the difficulties connected with the regulation of the railway systems. There are Allied Railway Missions in Austria now, there is the British Relief Mission, and an immense amount is also being done—pray do not let us in any way depreciate this—by private charity. There are the various funds, appeals for which you see in the newspapers. There is the Relief Fund started a few days ago in a letter signed by a number of very important names, and I understand that in a very short time, in a few days time, there is going to be an appeal addressed with the highest authority from all the pulpits throughout the country. I certainly am not quoting these by way of suggesting that they can cover the whole ground, still less do they relieve Government of any responsibility. I am merely saying it out of fairness, pointing out what the public is doing, in order to show their appreciation of this tremendous issue.

In his Question the noble Viscount (Lord Bryce) said that the situation in Austria is largely due to the extreme depreciation of the currency, and it is true that it is that depreciation which is in the main responsible for the economic paralysis that we are discussing. As long as the Austrian krone is worth about 500 to the £ sterling it can hardly be expected that coal will flow readily from Czecho-Slovakia to Austria or food from Yugo-Slavia. Political difficulties, no doubt, impede the flow, but they are as nothing compared to the hard facts of cash difficulties. Currency disorganisation and the disappearance of the relation between money and commodities, on which the economic organisation of the world was based before the war, entail the perpetuation of Custom barriers. For instance, if German Austria wishes to buy goods from Czecho-Slovakia she has to buy stamped Czecho-Slovakian kronen, on which the premium is over 200 per cent. Another phenomenon is here alluded to, and that is the system of stamping notes. The stamping of the notes was started by the Serbs as they hoped by this means to reduce their responsibility for the share of the currency which has been, and was still being, issued by Austria-Hungary. Once started in Yugo Slavia and Hungary the movement spread to Czecho-Slovakia, and as a matter of self protection was instituted in Austria. The mere stamping of notes mean the severance of commercial relations for a considerable time, because in order to get the necessary returns the frontiers had to be closed. This is a very lamentable consequence of currency disorganisation, and of itself makes a return of international exchange exceedingly difficult.

I have spoken of the attempts that are being made by Governments, by societies, and by individuals to cope with this period of strain, but there is no remark that has fallen from any lips this afternoon with which I more cordially agree than that a situation like this is not to be dealt with by doles alone. A series of doles are, in the first place, an uneconomical method of spending money. They fail to promote in any way the recovery of initiative within the State itself that you are helping and which you want to engender, and you cannot go on making them indefinitely. The only solution, as the House has correctly seen, is the organisation of credits for food and raw materials on a large scale, and the export of manufactures from the countries which are receiving the credits to which I refer. Calculations have been made which show that about $40,000,000 are required for the raw materials to re-start the industries of these countries, and $100,000,000 are required for food and additional coal to carry on the populations over the period until next harvest. The critical time, as I have remarked, is not so much in the winter that lies immediately before us as the interval between the close of the winter and next September when the new harvest begins.


Does the noble Earl mean that the critical time is not coming in Austria until then?


My information is that the steps that I said we are taking earlier in the day will so far relieve the situation that the urgency is not what it has been described in this debate or in the newspapers, but that the real crisis will arise (assuming these steps to be successful) when they come to an end and you will be separated by about four months from the next harvest. With regard to the question of credits, the noble and learned Earl spoke as if this was a question that either rested with the Government, one Minister consulting another Minister, or one Department consulting another Department—in the background the Treasury is the Department he had in view—or one Ally consulting another Ally. I do not dispute that proposition. But let me point out that the question lies not so much here in this country or in Europe as in the lap of America. No one wish his profound experience of America is better acquainted with that than the noble and learned Earl.

I need not enlarge here upon our own difficulties. I do not say we are an impoverished nation, but we are a nation that has been hard hit—harder hit than many people allow—and is heavily overburdened by the war. Full of reasonable and honourable sympathy we may be, but we have to look to ourselves a little, and I think that the Prime Minister said nothing truer in his speech in the House of Commons the other night than when he said that the recovery of Great Britain from exhaustion was a vital element in the recovery of the world. We are almost the one stable element that stands and survives, and any shock given to our system here, quite apart from its effect upon our own well-being and prosperity, would have a wide reaction.

The matter, as I say, rests in the main with America. We cannot act alone. We certainly cannot act effectively alone. No credit scheme on a large scale is possible without the co-operation of the United States. The Sub-Commission of the Reparations Commission at Vienna have drawn up a scheme for the provision of credits for the reconstruction of Austria on a large scale, and that is now being considered at Washington. There lies the solution of this problem. If America, out of her abundance—and she certainly has abundance relatively to the rest of the world—is disposed to help, she will find no grudging or reluctant spirit on our part. I can imagine nothing more to the taste of the country or the Government than that we should be able to co-operate with them in some great scheme of credit for the relief of these suffering territories. The fact that the noble and learned Lord has spoken this afternoon in the manner he has will, I am certain, have great influence, not only amongst his own countrymen, but on the other side of the Atlantic where he won so great and well deserved a reputation.


My Lords, I should just like to add a few words to what the Leader of the House has just said. We are all grateful to him for having pointed out how far reaching is this question. It is not a mere matter of giving doles; it affects the larger question of credits and policy in the future. I should like to say a word about what has already been alluded to—namely, the enlistment of the agencies of Ecclesiastical Organisations for obtaining immediate relief for the needs that are crying out for help. I have had recent communications which led me to suppose that a great many people think that what has been done has been rather spasmodic and casual. The very reverse is the case. I have a long experience in dealing with the centralisation of appeal work carried on through religious organisations, and I have never known a case in which so much care has been taken to see that we were acting together and not overlapping unnecessarily; and also to see that every power and agency was being enlisted.

It is not an ordinary thing in the life of England that the Primate should be in communication with the Vatican about these matters, but in this case the Pope has been in communication with myself and others in England in order to see not merely that we were all making appeals but that we were making them at the same time, for the same object, and that it should be identified as far as possible as a corporate act. By a remarkable coincidence Sunday next happens to be the Festival of the Innocents, and throughout the whole of the Roman Church under the direction of the Pope and throughout the whole of the Anglican Community under the direction of the heads of our community, in the United States and in the Colonies, an appeal will be made.

I need hardly say that equal energy is being shown by the heads of the non-Episcopal bodies in this country. The Moderators of the General Assemblies in Scotland, both the Church of Scotland and the United Free, and no doubt in the Free Church too, and the Free Church Council, and the representatives of the various Free Churches in England; but besides I have been in touch with the Primate of Canada and all the other Metropolitans of our Church throughout the world, and so far as I have received replies, and I have from most of them, they have all been to the effect that an organised effort will be made on Sunday next.

Besides that, I have been in touch—it is almost unique, but not quite without precedent—with the Metropolitans of the Eastern Church, who obviously would not be appealed to from the Vatican, and although it is not certain how far they will be able to help us substantially, I have received replies assuring us of their active co-operation, I have received replies from the Acting Patriarch of Constantinople, the Patriarchs of Alexandria and Jerusalem, the Metropolitans of Athens, Montenegro, and Bucharest, and the Archbishop of Cyprus, representing the Eastern forces, which, whatever may be their power to contribute largely—which will vary in individual cases—show to a remarkable degree their co-operation in a determined effort on Sunday next, which shall be a marked day in the story of Christian benefaction for those who are suffering most severely. I think that when the detail of what has been accomplished is made public it will show that the effort has been productive of a very great deal of gain and good.

The difficulty at this moment is to know in what way and through what channel the money collected can be best and most effectively combined for distribution, and about that I am at this moment in hourly conference with some of those who are best qualified to give advice. I repeat that on Sunday next throughout Christendom an appeal is being made under the auspices of all the ecclesiastical authorities, and they are not few, with whom I have been able to be in touch, and I know that the same thing is happening in the Church of Rome throughout the world, and it gives hope if not of relief on a large scale, at least of the immediate relief of immediate needs where it is most needed.


My Lords, the noble Viscount on these benches has done good service in introducing this debate and in producing the reply which the noble Earl who leads the House has made. Of course, it is a most dreadful story. Vienna is known to everybody who has been there as the most cheerful city in Europe, more gay and cheerful than Paris, because deep down in Paris there has always been a sense of seriousness and even sometimes of threat which nobody ever recognised in Vienna. The noble Earl has in one respect at any rate given a more hopeful account of the immediate future than most of us who have received any information on this subject had ventured to suppose was possible.

I think it was the noble Viscount who first stated the limit of date by which the whole of the present supplies in Vienna, even the present miserable quarter rations, would be altogether exhausted—namely, January 18—after which, as I was informed, Vienna would be absolutely starving. If even now, as we are told, scenes occur in Vienna which can only be compared with what we have heard of the Indian famines before famine relief became as complete as it is, or of the Irish famine of seventy years ago, the prospect after three weeks from now appeared almost too terrible to contemplate, particularly as it seemed to me that the reports that were given of the hospitals led one to fear the very worst. After all, a hospital is usually kept going with such comforts as exist longer than any other place. I am told of hospitals in Vienna where there is now no hot water at all, and a hospital without hot water cannot be conducted even with the cleanliness of an ordinary house. I have been told of a hospital where the necessary ordinary supply of linen is 2,000 pieces, and where there are now only fifty-six.

Whether it is conceivable that gaps of that kind can be filled within the next month or two I really do not know, and I only trust that the noble Earl was not too sanguine in supposing that the forthcoming supplies during the next three or four weeks would stave off this appalling calamity, of which there has been evidence supplied from many different quarters to many different people, on authority which we have believed to be sound. I have been told for one thing that unless all the food which comes into Vienna is guarded by armed escorts it is certain to be snatched by starving persons. That is an index of what the condition of the city must be. I quite agree that it is of no use speaking about the past, and even if there were material for recriminations against anybody, this would not be the time to make them.

I cannot help feeling, as I think my noble friend Lord Reading felt, that the need of international sanction for everything must have done something to hamper the work of relief, of which the necessity, after all, has been now known for a year, or certainly for half a year. Many of us were told, and I have no doubt the Government were told, as long ago as July last that this particular state of things which has occurred would occur now indeed we were told in the summer that unless supplies could be poured into Austria Vienna would be starved to death by Christmas. I am far from supposing that good-will and charity have not done all that they could, but it is hard to believe that even with all the difficulties of supplying actual commodities, and still more with the difficulties of transport, the state of things of which we are now told was in fact altogether unavoidable if all had been done that could be done.

The figures of the credits which have been offered for the relief of starving Europe are no doubt impressive. We must all feel that the United States, in offering a credit. of between £9,000,000 and £10,000,000, have played their part well; and considering the condition of our own finances, I do not think that Europe can say that this country, by offering credits of over £12,000,000 I think the noble Earl said, of which some £4,000,000 have gone to the relief of Austria, has lagged behindhand. We all agree that once this question of immediate relief can be met that the subject of the economic future has to be taken in hand. I do not want to attempt to discuss what the noble Earl said, and we must all agree, things being as they are, that it is to America for the rehabilitation of Austria, and indeed of the greater part of Europe generally, that we must look. The difficulty there, I take it, is that Austria as it now exists has not been in the main a great producing country, and that the main trade of Austria-Hungary proceeded from what are now independent States—independent and not in every sense friendly States. But that great question of the future of what has been described as German-Austria must no doubt be faced.

For the moment, however, I am certain that we must consider this question of, the immediate need of the starving population, and I repeat that I fervently hope that the noble Earl has not been too sanguine in speaking of a four months relief as though that was immediately forthcoming, and that it would really meet the case during those months. He, himself, I take it, was impressed by the difficulty of the following months until the next harvest, for which I understand some altogether fresh arrangement will have to be made, which we shall have the opportunity of discussing before it becomes imminent. We can only hope that those who are almost in despair, even in this country, about the result of the next few weeks may be able to be reassured by what the noble Earl has told us.

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