HL Deb 03 August 1921 vol 43 cc158-65

LORD NEWTON rose to ask His Majesty's Government if a large International Military Control Commission is about to proceed to Hungary, although an Inter-Allied Military Commission has been in operation there ever since the Armistice; and, if so, whether the numbers of the British section can he stated; and whether a Reparation Commission is also about to proceed to Hungary.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in putting the Question which stands in my name, perhaps it will be as well if I point out, in case any one is unaware of the fact, that after the conclusion of the war an immense number of Commissions of all kinds were dispatched to various countries on the Continent. There were Naval Commissions, Military Commissions, Financial Commissions, Food Commissions, Railway Commissions, Frontier Commissions, and Plebiscite Commissions, and so far was this practice carried that, for all I know, at the present time, or at all events up to a short time ago, we were actually maintaining a Naval Commission in Warsaw. I often wonder that the attention of the vociferous "anti-waste" champions has never been called to the gross extravagance involved in these proceedings. The object of the Military and Naval Commissions was, of course, to see that the provisions of the Armistice were carried out, and that the ex-hostile countries should be prevented front renewing hostili- ties. Everybody will at once recognise that in the ease of Germany this course was absolutely necessary. But in the case of the smaller States there can be scarcely any justification for this particular form of extravagant expenditure. These smaller States, such as Austria, Hungary, and Bulgaria—I except Turkey, because Peace is not concluded with Turkey—have not only been dismembered but reduced to actual pauperism and bankruptcy, and, even if they desired to go to war, they have neither the material nor the money with which to carry on war-like operations.

In the case of Hungary, with which I am more immediately concerned, there has been a so-called Inter-Allied Military Commission in existence ever since the Armistice, that is, for something like three years, and it has been the, business of these people to take steps to prevent the Hungarians from making further war-like preparations, to examine their military and naval resources, and to report upon them. One would have supposed that after three years these people would have been in a position to tell us what the actual conditions are. But, far from that being the case, these military and naval experts are now presumably going to be turned on to some other duties and they are going to be succeeded by a large so-called International Control Commission. I gather that this is a Commission of very considerable size, because in a letter which reached this country a short time ago from Budapest, not written by a Hungarian, but by a neutral, I find these statements made by a correspondent who is thoroughly to be relied upon— It makes me furious that this good man struggling with adversity— he alludes to the Minister of Finance in the Hungarian Government— should receive a demand from the Military Control Commission for thirty more apartments for wives and children of officers and non-commissioned officers, in addition to the 115 rooms already demanded, and instructions that this is quite outside the requirements of the Aviation Commission and the Naval Control. I would call particular attention to what follows— Four admirals, and thirty-two officers for four old gutted vedette boats! We might have learnt a lesson from the scandal at Vienna. It is hardly credible that such a procedure can be seriously contemplated, and I hope that whoever answers this Question will be able to assure me that one of these four admirals is not a British admiral.

As a matter of fact, as stated in the letter, there is nothing of a naval character to inquire into. There are these four disused patrol boats, and if the Naval Commission is going to be so numerous as that, and if it is really necessary to send four admirals to investigate the circumstances attending upon four disused patrol boats, to what number must the members of the Military Commission amount? There is nothing into which to inquire. There are no naval forces, and I believe that the Hungarian Military Force amounts to only 30,000 infantry. There is no Cavalry, no Artillery, and so far as I know, there are no flying machines. There is literally nothing to inquire into, and yet the Allies are insisting upon the despatch of a huge Commission at a time when this unfortunate country is making the most desperate efforts to reestablish its financial equilibrium and when it is on the verge of bankruptcy, if not actually in a bankrupt state. I sincerely hope that the contingents supplied by His Majesty's Government will be on a moderate scale, and that at all events they will set an example of moderation to other Powers.

The other part of my Question deals with what is known as the Reparation Commission. These unfortunate countries are, of course, not only subject to the Military Control Commission, but also have huge Commissions sent at their own expense with a view to extracting something in the nature of an indemnity in the remote future. Here, again, everybody recognises that it is only fair and just that we should get out of Germany whatever we can, but I think everybody equally recognises that it is practically an impossibility to secure any real reparation out of the smaller countries to which I have alluded. Yet, in spite of this obvious fact, an enormous International Commission was sent to Vienna, consisting of hundreds, if not thousands, of people. It remained there at enormous expense, and at the end reported that nothing was to be got out of the country, and the Allies had to pay expenses themselves. The same thing is occurring in Bulgaria. There is at the present moment a large International Reparation Commission in Bulgaria, a country which now consists of only four and a half millions of inhabitants. The salaries of these men alone amount to over four million francs (French money), and to that you have to add enormous expenditure in connection with the support of these men, expenses connected with travelling, housing and so forth,,and also, apparently, expenses in connection with the families that they are allowed to take with them.

I should like, if it were possible, to plead that the Hungarians, while there is yet time, should be saved from a burden of this description, and I ant encouraged to some extent by what fell from the noble Marquess the Leader of the House when discussing the ratification of the Hungarian Treaty. He intimated that in his opinion it was only reasonable to expect that Hungary would be treated more or less in the same way as had been Austria. To my mind it is perfectly preposterous to demand reparation from a country in the position of Hungary. There are only two kinds of reparation. One is by making the country pay in hard cash, and the other is to annex its territory and population. These unfortunate people have had two-thirds of their territory taken away from them; they have lost two-thirds of their population; and they have had to suffer from a Bolshevist régime for several months. It seems to me that they have suffered enough, and that any demands of this nature might well be abandoned, At the present moment, as I have stated, they are making the most desperate financial efforts to make two ends meet, but it stands to reason that that cannot be done if this heavy expenditure is put upon them. As an instance of its effect I may note that in Hungary the krone, which stood at about 800 to the £ within the last few days has fallen to 1,500 to the £, in consequence of the approaching advent of these Commissions.

If I saw any prospect of our getting anything out of these investigations, these highly extravagant Commissions, I should not object so much, but everybody knows that we have no expectation of the kind, and the utmost we should try to do is to endeavour to get compensation for individuals who have suffered in consequence of the war. Our efforts should be directed towards re-establishing the economic condition of that country. Our gain will be a great deal more if we are able to resume trade relations with this and other countries, than it will be from sending out huge Commissions to ascertain the amount of their assets. I do not know what view noble Lords may take, but to me this practice of quartering huge, expensive Commissions on these broken-down countries is inexpressibly mean, and senseless as well. I do not know of anything more unedifying than to go to one of these bankrupt countries and to see the large number of military and other people living in comparative luxury at the expense of a bankrupt population.

Personally, I believe these Missions to be in the main perfectly unnecessary. I believe that the questions which they are sent to investigate can be perfectly well dealt with by the diplomatic staffs that we maintain in these countries, assisted, if necessary, by a few experts. I am not sure who arrives at this decision, and who is responsible for this procedure, but I presume it is the Allied Supreme Council, and I presume also that that, to a great extent, means the French Foreign Office. To do justice (and I am anxious to do that), I believe that His Majesty's Government have sinned less in this respect than any of the Allies. From what I have heard the staffs that we have sent out are moderate as compared with some of those sent by our former Allies, and I sincerely hope that His Majesty's Government will set an example to the other Powers. I hope they will send as few people as possible; and that they will do as much as they possibly can in order to abate and diminish what really amounts to an international scandal.


May I in a very few words support what has just been said? The present position of Hungary is one of extraordinary difficulty. She has got to reconstruct her whole national life after two-thirds of her territory and people have been taken from her, and I hope that nothing will be done by the Commission to make this extremely difficult task more severe. The decision of the Supreme Council to dismember Hungary was one of the most extraordinary things of which I know. Some day it may be explained, and we shall know what was behind this determination, but at present it is unintelligible. In the case of Hungary the principle of self-determination has been absolutely ignored. A strong and united Hungary would have been the strongest safeguard for the peace of Central Europe, and instead of that we have got a Hungary reduced to a fragment of her former size, and with a great part of her population handed over to States with a lower standard of culture than her own. I am afraid that this is irrelevant to what was said by my noble friend, but the sympathy that we owe to Hungary should not be forgotten in anything that is done by the new Commissions. It was promised in this House definitely that a Boundary Commission should be set up to trace her final frontiers. M. Millerand, in his note to the Hungarian Delegation, definitely promised consideration wherever boundaries do not correspond "with ethnical or economic exigencies." He also said that the proposed procedure—the Boundary Commission—" supplied a suitable method of correcting, in the delimitation of boundaries, any injustices against which grounded objections may be raised." I hope that His Majesty's Government will state whether this promise is being, or is about to be, fulfilled.


My Lords, I daresay my noble friend, Lord Newton, will absolve me from the necessity of dealing with the question of Bulgaria, because it is not mentioned in the Question. I think he will realise also; as will Lord Sydenham, that this Question of the whole policy of reparation and of matters connected with the rectification of the boundaries of Hungary, and of the actions of the Supreme Council, are matters for the Foreign Office and the Leader of the House, and not for myself as representing, in this instance, the War Office. Further, my noble friend raised some point about four admirals going out. Of course, I cannot speak about those admirals, because I am only dealing with the question asked as to the Military Mission.


Military and Naval.


The noble Lord did not say so. In reply to the noble Lord's first Question, it is quite true that since August, 1919, an Allied Mission of generals, appointed by the Supreme Council, has been stationed in Hungary as military advisers of the Allied High Commissioners at Budapest and for the prevention of frontier incidents between the Hungarians and the Rumanians and Jugo-Slays. But the Allied Mission of generals at Budapest came to an end on the ratification of the Treaty of Trianon on July 26, 1921, so that, there was an end of the first phase, if I may so call it. Then, on the ratification of the Treaty, an Inter-Allied Mission of Control for Hungary was constituted, and is now proceeding to Hungary.

In view of the suggestion which has been made by my noble friend as to the rather bloated size of these Commissions, I should like to give him the precise figures. Of Italians there are 21 officers and 108 other ranks; French, 13 officers and 47 other ranks; English, 11 officers and 27 other ranks; while the Japanese, whose interest, of course, is less close, have two officers and four other ranks. My noble friend will see, therefore, that of the three great Powers, Italy, France, and England, the English Commission is by far the smallest. He also suggested that large numbers of additional rooms were being taken for the wives and other persons who accompany these officers and other ranks. I am able to assure him that that is not so, and that no arrangements have been made, or permission given, at the expense of the Hungarian Government, for the British Military Mission to encumber themselves in that particular manner. The duties of the Military Commission of Control in Hungary consist of the supervising of the execution of the military clauses of the Treaty of Trianon.

My noble friend asked me another Question as to whether a Reparation Commission is also about to proceed to Hungary. Article 163 of the Treaty of Trianon provides that the Reparation Commission under that Treaty shall be the same Reparation Commission as is provided for under Article 233 of the Treaty of Versailles, but that the Commission shall constitute a section to consider the special questions raised by the application of the Treaty of Trianon. This section has consultative powers only, except in cases where the Commission shall delegate to it such powers as may be deemed convenient. It is understood that the Reparation Commission has not yet constituted the section provided for by this clause. That, I think, gives an answer to the specific Question which my noble friend asked, and if he desires to raise the wider questions as to policy in these matters he should, of course, address himself to the Leader of the House.


How long is the International Military Commission likely to take over its work in Hungary? The noble Viscount referred to the Treaty of Trianon. Can he say whether all the obligations imposed on the other States, such as Jugo-Slavia, have been fulfilled, and whether their troops have been withdrawn from the territory they occupied pending the ratification of the Treaty?


I am afraid I cannot answer the latter Question, and the answer to the first question must depend upon the rapidity with which they are able to proceed with the work.


It is gratifying to find that my noble friend does not guarantee that a British admiral is going to be sent to co-operate with the other admirals in the dismemberment of the four boats, and it is also gratifying to learn that the officers and non-commissioned officers are not to be accompanied by their wives, sisters, and female relatives. But the fact remains that a very large Mission is going to be sent out to do the work which ought to have been done, and has been done, during the last three years, and there is no getting away from the fact.


Can the noble Viscount say whether this Mission will be concerned in any way with the boundary question?


It will only deal, I think, with the carrying out of those particular provisions which I mentioned.

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