§ LORD NEWTON rose to call attention to the excessive expenditure in connection with numerous International Commissions in Central Europe, and the consequent effect upon the economic recovery of ex-enemy States and their ability to pay reparations.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, it will be in the recollection of the House that, upon the completion of hostilities, a vast number of Missions were despatched all over Europe by the Allies, and that we were not backward in contributing our share to the number. We sent out Military Missions, Naval Missions, Air Missions, Financial Missions, Food Missions, Railway Missions, and Plebiscite Missions. We never actually went the length of sending a Naval Mission to Switzerland, but we sent a Naval Mission to Poland and it remained there for quite a long period. There were so many Missions of a military or naval character in existence at one time that a perambulating Mission was actually established, with its headquarters I think at Constantinople, for the purpose of controlling all the other Missions. In process of time these Missions, the expenses of which fell upon the Allied Governments, were gradually withdrawn, and their places taken by International Commissions which were maintained at the expense of the ex-enemy Powers. Those Commissions may be roughly divided into three classes—Frontier Commissions, Financial Commissions, and Control Commissions.
§ The classic influence of futility in this direction, and one which probably will always be recorded in history, is the case of Austria. In addition to the Missions which I have enumerated—Military, Naval, Air and so forth—an enormous horde of persons, both male and female, numbering, I might almost say, thousands, amounting to a small army, descended upon Vienna for the purpose of investigating what reparations could be paid. This enormous Commission proceeded to Vienna in the spring of 1920, and remained there a whole year. The cost of this huge body was no less than 7,500,000 gold kronen. Of this sum the Austrian Government was only able to pay two and a half millions, and the remainder therefore—some five millions— 326 had to be paid by the Governments which were responsible for sending the Commission out. In other words, they were five millions of gold kronen out of pocket over this Commission. The end of it was that when this multitude returned it was discovered that there were no means of extracting any money from Austria at all. What naturally occurs to one is that this discovery might have been made by one or two individuals, without it being necessary to send out an army for the purpose. All the Commissions have now come to an end in Austria. That country has been swept so bare that there are no means of supporting Commissions of any kind.
§ I pass from Austria to the case of Germany. I am not going to say too much on the subject of Germany, because it is one that is so great and complicated that I recognise it cannot be dealt with in a few minutes. But, to put it quite shortly, Germany abounds in Commissions at the present moment. There is a Control Commission, a Reparations Commission, a Restitution Commission, a Coal Commission, a Frontier Commission, a Silesian Plebiscite Commission, War Graves. Commission, and, of course, a Rhine Commission. The Commission of Reparations, which consists of 171 persons, costs apparently, the colossal sum of more than 32 million marks a month. I am not going to discuss that particular point, but I would like to say a word upon one of these Commissions of which I have some personal knowledge—namely, the Control Commission.
§ The Control Commission was sent out for the purpose of disarming Germany. It consists, or at all events did consist a short time ago, of 1,568 persons, and it costs no less a sum than 23,500,000 marks monthly. I was in Berlin in August of last year, and I was given an opportunity to inspect the work of this particular Commission. I was shown the charts and documents upon which they worked, and it was pointed out to me that the work of disarming Germany was practically accomplished. There was, in fact, so little left to be done that General Nollet, the head of the Commission, with the concurrence of his British colleague, had recommended that the personnel of this Commission should be reduced by 40 per cent. in January of the present year.
§ I am under the impression that so far from this reduction having been carried out, there has been no reduction whatsoever 327 and it is quite easy to see why this stupendous Commission is still maintained. From time to time there are discoveries in Germany of concealed arms. My information, which is not German information but English information of the most reliable character, is to the effect that the periodical stories of the discovery of arms are grossly exaggerated, and that the statements reflecting upon the complicity of the German Government are frequently without any foundation. I should be inclined to think that the German Government dislikes these concealed stores of arms, if possible, more than we do, because, if I am not mistaken, these concealed arms are usually the work either of Communist bodies or of reactionary bodies under the inspiration of some reactionary individuals, whose importance is probably greatly exaggerated. But the point is that so long as we allow our policy to be controlled by the sensational Press, either here or in France, there is no prospect whatsoever of a Commission of this kind being reduced or coming to an end. There will always be found objections to reducing these Commissions by one man.
§ In addition to that you have the extraordinary temptation which is placed upon the members of these Commissions themselves. These individuals are so highly paid that it is unnecessary for them to draw their pay in this country or France. Their allowances are on such a liberal scale that they are able to live in Germany in almost a condition of luxury, or at all events luxury as compared with the ordinary population, and even to bring their wives and their families with them. In these circumstances it seems quite conceivable that these Commissions will continue indefinitely. I will not vouch for the figures, but I am informed that the total cost of the various Commissions which I have enumerated in Germany, including no doubt the cost of troops in Silesia and so forth, amounts to the very large sum of between eighteen hundred million and nineteen hundred million marks a year. If to that sum you add the expenses of the Armies of Occupation, which, if I am not mistaken, amount to something like sixty or seventy million pounds sterling a year, if not more, it is not difficult to realise that the process of making Germany pay is a more complicated and difficult one than many people in this country realise.
§ I will come now to the cases of the smaller countries, which seem to me to be even 328 harder, and I will allude first to the case of Hungary. The financial situation of Hungary is absolutely desperate. These people start with a budget deficit of something like sixteen or seventeen milliards. That is the way in which they begin the year! Undeterred by our experience in regard to Austria—when I say "our experience," I am not alluding solely to His Majesty's Government, but to all the Allied Governments—Commissions have been sent to Hungary on a precisely similar scale. There are the usual Frontier Commissions, Military Commissions, Air Commissions, and Naval Commissions. With regard to the Naval Commission, I should like to point out that although there were only four more or less obsolete patrol boats on the Danube, which constituted the Navy of Hungary, it was nevertheless actually proposed to send out four admirals with their retinue in order to disarm these boats. I am only too pleased to think that some comments made upon it in this House had the effect of restraining these admirals from proceeding to Budapest.
§ The military part of the Control Commission is enormously expensive. The numbers of this Commission amount to nearly 300, and if I am not mistaken these 250 or 300 individuals cost more than the whole of the old Hungarian Army, which consisted of 35,000 men. This Military Control Commission, during its first six months, cost 250,000,000 kronen; its monthly cost is now about 20,000,000 kronen. Some idea of the lavish scale on which the members of this Commission are treated may be inferred from the fact that a British private attached to the Commission receives in a month as much pay as the Hungarian Prime Minister receives in the course of a whole year. I am informed that the British private receives in pay and allowances an equivalent to 52,000 kronen a month; and, oddly enough, 52,000 kronen is the exact amount of the annual salary of the Hungarian Prime Minister.
§ Then you have the Frontier Commission, which represents an expenditure of 10,000,000 kronen per month. In regard to this particular Commission I mentioned on a previous occasion—and I cannot forbear repeating it now—that I visited one of these Frontier Commissions and found that the British, French, Japanese and Italian officers were being 329 paid between sixty and seventy times as much as their Hungarian colleague working in the same room and doing precisely the same work.
§ In addition to these expensive Military Commissions you have the Reparations Commission. It arrived in Budapest in November of last year, and its expenses quite throw into the shade the performances of the Control Commission. In the course of the first month, with only one secretary present and two or three assistants, they managed to spend 5,000,000 kronen on offices and office furniture alone, and their present expenditure is reckoned at no less than 100,000,000 kronen a month. To my mind the idea of getting any reparations out of Hungary at all is absolutely preposterous. It is not only immoral, it is quite impracticable. These people start with a deficit of 17 milliards; the country is bankrupt, they have lost two-thirds of their territory, and they were robbed in time of peace, not in war time, by the Rumanians, to the extent of something like £100,000,000.
§ We are not only imposing these crushing burdens on this people, but we are calmly pointing out to them that we intend to wring an indefinite sum from them in the shape of an indemnity. In these circumstances, with these burdens piled upon them and being told that an enormous indemnity is to be extracted at a future date, I ask how can you expect any stability of any kind in the country, and how can you expect any one to invest capital there? The only result of the visit of the Reparations Commission, which is by way of ascertaining the amount payable, is that the Hungarian exchange has continued steadily to depreciate. A year ago it stood at about 700 kronen to the £, but since the arrival of the Reparations Commission it has sunk to over. 3,000. Obviously there can be only one end to a procedure of this kind. If these Commissions are allowed to continue, mid unless all idea of an indemnity is abandoned, Hungary must inevitably reach the same position as Austria.
§ There is one other country to which I wish to refer, and that is Bulgaria. Bulgaria, like Hungary, starts with an enormous deficit. Nevertheless, they have also been allotted their full share of Commissions; and they have been given a Commission of a special character all to themselves. There is a League of Nations Commission which has been in existence since 1920, the object of which is to bring about a reciprocal 330 Greco-Bulgarian emigration. I am informed that this Commission does absolutely nothing, and that the head of it, an Englishman, passes most of his time in Smyrna. In addition, we have the usual Military, Naval, and Air Commissions. They arrived as far back as the summer of 1920. Although there are only eight aeroplanes in the whole country an imposing Air Commission was sent out in which there were certainly two or three British officers. I was not conscious, personally, of the fact that there was a Bulgarian Navy, but a Naval Commission was also sent out, and I understand that the British representative had the grace to retire from it after twenty-four hours' experience.
§ But the military control which is the main feature of the Commission remained from the summer of 1920 until the present year. Each of the Great Powers was represented, and there was, of course, practically nothing to do. These people lived in the most expensive manner, and on the same scale as the other Commissions I have mentioned. As an instance of the lavish scale on which they were paid I may mention that a typist attached to the Commission received two and a-half times the salary of a Bulgarian Cabinet Minister. The Control Commission has now, fortunately, come to an end and there is nothing left but a nucleus. But whether it has come to an end or not the money has been spent, and it has been absolutely wasted.
§ The Control Commission was followed by a Reparations Commission which arrived in March, 1921. In order to do things in a proper style they arrived in a special train, travelling across Europe at the expense of the Bulgarian Government. It consisted of about 40 persons, exclusive of the native employees, who no doubt are fairly numerous. At once this Commission proceeded to seize all the best available buildings for their residence. A friend of mine, who happened to be in Sofia at the time, told me that everyone, was cleared out of the only two presentable hotels in the place in order to make room for them, and any amount of money was spent in furnishing and decorating suitable abodes for the members of this particular Mission. As one instance of what took place, I am informed that the head of a Delegation—I am happy to inform your Lordships that it was not the British Delegation—although considerable expense had been incurred in fitting up a house for him, said that he must be furnished with 331 a grand piano. A grand piano was not to be obtained in Bulgaria at all, but the Bulgarian Government sent to Vienna, obtained a grand piano for him, and brought it to Sofia at their own expense. When it arrived, the delegate sent in the bill for tuning it to the Bulgarian Government.
§ In spite of the hopeless financial condition of that country, Bulgarians have been told that they have got to pay an indemnity of £90,000,000 sterling. I believe that the instalments—they are spread, I think, over thirty-five years—would practically swallow up the whole of the available revenue. One of the objects of sending out a Reparation Commission to Bulgaria was to put the finances of the country in order. It is common knowledge that, as there is nothing to be got out of this country, the only thing to be done is to agree to a moratorium. If that is the case, why are all these people required? If there is going to be a moratorium, it is perfectly obvious that the whole of the work could be done by the Legations, with possibly an expert attached to them who would work with the Ministry of Finance. As it is, the cost for one month to this miserable, bankrupt country is 23,000,000 francs, and up to the end of August of this year the Bulgarians have spent no less than 271,000,000 francs in connection with these Commissions and with Inter-Allied troops.
§ It is hardly necessary to say that, so far from improving the financial situation, the despatch of the Reparations Commission to Bulgaria has had precisely the same effect as in Hungary, and the Bulgarian exchange has continued to depreciate. I should like to add that the Bulgarians, so far as I know, have honestly done their best to carry out the provisions of the Treaty, and—wrongly, in my opinion—have made hardly any protestations against the way in which they have been treated. My own experience is that, unless you complain and make yourself disagreeable, nobody does anything for you. The Bulgarians have adopted the line of passive acquiescence, and no Bulgarian has ever approached me with the request to ventilate the grievances of his country. I have discovered these facts for myself, but I think that they are none the less very worthy of your Lordships' attention.
§ That is very nearly all that I have to say on the subject of these Commissions. If the noble Marquess, the Foreign Secretary, were present, he would probably attribute it to innate viciousness on my own part, but 332 nevertheless I am not ashamed to say that the spectacle of these Commissions battening upon bankrupt peoples is one of the most repulsive that I can imagine. I am not alone in this opinion; if anybody here or elsewhere will go to these countries, he will find that it is shared by every Englishman resident in them. I have never come across an Englishman, even if he was a member of these Commissions, who was not heartily ashamed of the way in which these people are bled, and I may mention, as an instance which is much to their credit, that I understand that some of the British members of the Control Commission in Bulgaria mean to resign their appointments.
§ I should like to know how we should feel if we had lost the war, and if there were established in this country enormous commissions of Germans, Turks, Bulgars and Heaven knows who, living in the most expensive hotels, travelling in special trains, with any amount of money to dispose of, all of which had to be paid for by ourselves; and if we were told at the same time that, in addition to these burdens, we should be called upon to pay an enormous indemnity of an unknown amount in the future. If this process of loading up a people with these burdens were going to have any satisfactory result so far as we are concerned, I should not so much mind; but we are not going to get anything out of it at all. The whole process seems to me extraordinarily futile. It is as if you were to make a man bankrupt and then to quarter all your impecunious relations upon him and tell them they could spend as much money as they chose. The result would be that the money would ultimately come out of your own pocket. That is precisely what is occurring at present. All these prodigious expenses in connection with these Commissions eventually come out of our own pockets, because it means that there will be so much money the less to be paid us, supposing there is anything at all.
§ The real effect of these Commissions—I regret to say it—is not only to burden these countries in a senseless way but to accentuate race hatred. I cannot imagine any more effective process of carrying out that object, which unfortunately appears to be the object of certain people in this country. And if you ask why it is done, why we pursue this particular course, the only answer you get is that we must do it because our Allies do it. I confess that in this particular case I should like to see this 333 country dissociate itself entirely from its Allies. If the French Government or the Italian Government choose to send these hideously expensive Commissions to the ex-enemy countries, let them do so, but let us set an example, let us either withdraw our Commissions altogether or reduce them to the smallest possible numbers. I believe that if we adopted this course it would do more to enhance our credit throughout Europe than any other action which we might take.
§ I have been told, when I have brought intelligence of this character before the House on previous occasions, that these people deserve a lesson; and that unless they receive a severe lesson they may be tempted to go to war again. I cannot help wishing that sometimes the Supreme Council, instead of repairing to Cannes or to some other pleasure resort, could be persuaded to establish itself at Vienna or at Budapest, where feelings of this kind would very soon disappear. If anybody were to go to the two cities which I have mentioned—to quote only two—and were to see the swarms of under-sized and stunted children, all victims of famine during the war, the pitiable spectacle of the middle classes who are reduced almost to starvation, the thousands upon thousands of unfortunate refugees, living miserably in cellars or in railway trucks, and if anybody were to realise the general depression which prevails, he would realise that no further lesson is wanted. These people are not in the least likely to go to war, and are not in a position to do so. I maintain, and I shall continue to do so whenever I get the opportunity, that the interests of this country lie, not in laying burdens on these people and trying to extract money from them, but in doing our best to assist them to recover some measure of economic prosperity.
§ LORD PHILLIMORE
My Lords, I do not pretend to the knowledge which the noble Lord has of all these countries, but I am able to contribute a little as to the state of Hungary and the feeling there, and I trust that what the noble Lord has said, and the feeling which will be expressed in this House, will lead His Majesty's Government to reconsider these matters. In Hungary, as the noble Lord has said—my information differs from his only in this, that I extend it over seven months instead of six—250 million kronen has been spent on these Commissions.
§ LORD PHILLIMORE
Seven months, from. July 22 to February 22. That figure comes to £78,125 at the exchange of 3,200 kronen to the £, which is correct according to my information. There are six Commissions. There is the Allied Military Control, which consists of twenty-two Italian delegates or officials, fourteen French, thirteen British, and two Japanese, and I am glad to see that the British are considerably fewer in number than the Italian. To that extent we set a good example. There is the Coal Control Commission of one delegate from each of the four Great Powers. There are four Boundary Commissions, each consisting of one representative of each of the four great Powers. There is, besides, the Reparations Commission, which I understand is not counted in those Commissions nor in that figure. The expense of those Commissions is several times—double at any rate—in those seven months, the total salary of the Regent for the whole year.
Now, the condition of things in Hungary is most depressing. The condition of the respectable middle class and official people in Budapest is quite heartrending. The descriptions are confirmed by all that I have learned and heard, and we are bleeding her for no purpose at all. We cannot get money out of her. We are destroying the very sources of money by the way in which we are dealing with these people, who, after all, strange as it may seem, are not at all unfriendly to the British. I am told that, notwithstanding all this, the feeling in Budapest is a very friendly British feeling, just as it was when I was out there some years before the war. I understand that a distinction is drawn between the British and the French, and what I feel is that His Majesty's Government, and the British nation, might so easily give a lesson and set an example to the Italians and the French, who are disposed to treat these countries after the old Napoleonic fashion, and to bleed them white as conquered countries. That is not, I trust, the British view.
I was reminded of a curious incident which used to take place, I believe, in the later seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries in Holland. As your Lordships will be aware, the original constitution of that country, after it escaped from Philip II, was such that there were not only seven 335 or eight States but each city counted as an independent sovereign State, and sent its deputies, as to a congress. It was part of the theory that unless there was a unanimous vote nothing international could be done. What was to happen if one single little city stood out? They had a most effective remedy. They sent a Commission to it—a deputation of worthy burghers from the central States. It was understood that those burghers must be handsomely received and well treated. They went there, they would not take "No" for an answer, they remonstrated, and they stayed on until their keep was so expensive that the city gave way sooner than stand out any longer. I almost feel as if some of the people who designed these Commissions—perhaps in some other country—are endeavouring to induce some of these countries to submit to even harder terms than those imposed upon them sooner than have these wretched Commissions sitting upon them and wasting their money any longer.
I really could have said a great deal, but it has been so well said by the noble Lord that I am not anxious to repeat it. I understand that the authorities in Hungary have some hope, bad as their finances are, of getting them into something like shape, and these Commissions perpetually come in and stop any chance of rectifying the balance. Hungary, at any rate, is in a better state than Austria, and still friendly to Great Britain. It would be a great thing for the peace of the world—that peace of the world which the League of Nations, of which I am proud to have been a champion, was established to create—if these sore feelings could be done away with, the business of these Commissions wound up and this large army of officials withdrawn from these countries as soon as possible.
THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (THE EARL OF CRAWFORD)
My Lords, my noble friend the Leader of the House desired me to apologise for his absence—he is in bed again—and to give the reply to the noble Lord. These Commissions in Central Europe were set up under the various Treaties of Peace. The staffs, if not actually laid down in the Treaties, have been fixed by Allied agreement. Lord Newton suggested that we should break away from our Allies, in which Lord Phillimore supports him.
§ LORD PHILLIMORE
Not entirely. I suggested that we should reduce the staffs 336 as much as possible and endeavour to wind up the work as quickly as possible.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
No doubt Lord Newton will remember that some of the Allies suffered during the war and are anxious about the rehabilitation of their territories. The rates of pay, allowances, and so forth, have also been fixed by agreement between the representatives in Paris of the principal Allied Powers. The Commissions were appointed for a definite purpose, to perform necessary work in connection with the execution of the Treaties. If their cost had not been charged to the ex-enemy countries, the Allies would have had to bear it, and what might have been gained in the direction of reparations would have been lost in direct expenditure by the Allies. In so far as these Commissions involve expenditure by the ex-enemy States, they may, of course, to that extent impede the economic recovery of those States, although I doubt whether the cost to ex-enemy States is quite as great a burden as is represented, relative to the total outlay of those countries.
It is presumably not intended to argue that these Commissions are unnecessary, and the question really is whether the staffs are unduly large, whether the rates of pay, allowances, &c., are unduly high, and whether they have been dilatory, as Lord Newton suggests, in performing their duties. Officers receiving pay at Allied rates in ex-enemy countries, where the exchange has collapsed, naturally seem to local residents to be drawing unjustifiably high salaries, and this fact gives rise to much exaggerated comment and criticism. But it was necessary to remunerate Allied officers at rates corresponding to what they would receive on special service in the pay of their own Governments, and these rates were fixed by Allied agreement after careful consideration, and some of them are subject to periodical revision. There is no reason why the Allied Governments should bear the charge.
As to the cost of the principal Commissions, it cannot be said that the plebiscites were conducted on an extravagant scale, or that the work of the Plebiscite Commissions was unduly prolonged. In the case of the Commission that administered the plebiscite in Sopron, in Western Hungary, the total cost has not been definitely ascertained. As the Hungarian 337 Government refused to comply with the terms of the Treaty of Trianon it became necessary to retain this Inter-Allied Commission in Sopron for several months, in the first place to supervise the territory and endeavour to preserve order, latterly to conduct the plebiscite which was agreed upon between Austria and Hungary at the Conference in Venice in October last. The cost of this Commission will fall mainly on the Hungarian Government, but this constitutes no injustice, as the long duration of the West Hungarian dispute was due to the action of the Hungarian Government itself. In Upper Silesia the Commission has been very costly, but the magnitude and duration of that work has been due to causes entirely outside the control of the Allied Governments. The work performed by the Boundary Commissions is obviously necessary. The staff employed is reasonable, and, in the opinion of the Foreign Office, the cost cannot be said to be excessive.
The Inter-Allied Military Commissions of Control involve a considerable charge, but, again, those who read the military clauses of the Treaty will appreciate that their work could not be done forthwith. It will probably also be agreed that their work was the most important of all. If Lord Newton is correct in asserting that their cost is excessive it is surprising that the ex-enemy States which have been subject to their control, and which will ultimately have to bear the cost, have not shown more alacrity in complying with their demands, and thereby shortening the period during which the expenditure has to be met. I cannot accept Lord Newton's view that depreciation of the exchange is due to the existence of these Commissions.
In the various Peace Treaties it was provided that the military clauses were to be executed within three months of ratification. In no case has this been done. In every case the delay has been attributable to the dilatoriness of the ex-enemy Government. If the period of activity of the Commissions of Control has been prolonged, and the cost increased, the ex-enemy Governments themselves are principally to blame. Even so, however, in the case of Austria, the Allied Governments considered that it would be impracticable, in view of the state of Austrian finances, to leave the Commission of Control in Austria until the military clauses have been completely carried out. Accord- 338 ingly, the Commission was withdrawn in February of last year, sonic four months after the expiration of the period allowed for compliance with the terms of the Treaty. Only a small liquidating Commission was left in Vienna to maintain control, this body being paid by the Allies, and no charges in connection with it falling on the Austrian Government. In the case of Hungary the work of the Commission of Control was delayed at the start by the necessity of detailing officers to supervise the transfer of Western Hungary to Austria, an operation which was unduly prolonged by the action of the Hungarian Government themselves.
The Reparation Commission has been criticised by Lord Newton as placing an unjustifiable charge upon the ex-enemy Governments. In particular, he quoted the Austrian Commission as being very expensive and extravagant. No doubt the presence in Vienna of officers drawing pay at Allied rates naturally gives rise to criticism and ill-feeling. On the other hand, it must be remembered that the reports of that section, far indeed from holding out hopes of obtaining payments from Austria at present, encouraged the grant of credits to that country, and by March of last year (the section was withdrawn in April) the actual cost of the Austrian section represented about five-eighths of one per cent. of the credits given to Austria by the Allied Governments. I think that Lord Newton's statement, that this case was the classic instance of futility, may be treated as somewhat of an exaggeration. He further made alarming statements about the Hungarian section. I am sure he will be pleased to learn that it has been constituted on a very modest scale, and at present it is intended that only four or five officers should be located in Budapest.
My Lords, I think the reply of the noble Earl is eminently unsatisfactory. The very interesting recital which Lord Newton gave of the activities and expense of these different Commissions was one which, if widely published in this country, would excite universal displeasure. It is not too much to say that, if it were known that we, who are now suffering from industrial depression, are increasing by our own action that very depression, by inflicting upon these States in a practically bankrupt condition onerous charges which, in my judgment, are generally unnecessary, there would be a universal protest.
339 It was said by the noble Earl that my noble friend Lord Newton proposed that we should break away from our Allies in this matter. I did not understand my noble friend to suggest anything of the kind. All that has been suggested is that His Majesty's Government should take the initiative, as they can properly take it, in suggesting to their Allies that the crushing cost of these Commissions should, if possible, be diminished. They can be diminished, in my judgment, and I have travelled a good deal in Germany since the war. There is no country, even Germany, where the existence of these enormous Commissions is in the least necessary. When difficulties arise the solution always seems to be to appoint a Commission of experts. I have lived long enough now to know that Commissions of experts are a very convenient excuse for doing nothing.
We have been struggling for years to arrive at conclusions as to the amount of money which can be extracted from our former enemies. We have not yet arrived at any definite conclusion whatever, and yet we have Commissions of experts devoting time and—what is much more important—our money (because it will be our money in the end) to the examination of these questions, and, whenever their conclusions are arrived at, and they are supposed to be the last word on the subject, they are again to be reviewed a few months afterwards by another body of experts. The Foreign Office should be prepared to make representations of the most strenuous nature to our Allies on this subject, calling their attention to the fact that the existence of these immense and onerous Commissions is a burden of the gravest kind upon practically bankrupt States, especially when they are continued for an undue period, when they are in many cases no longer necessary.
My impression is that half of these Commissions are prolonged by the members of the Commissions themselves. They do not want to lose their employment, and therefore they suggest that some little incident or other requires the continued existence of some particular Commission.
The noble Earl has distinctly said that many British officials are anxious to resign from these Commissions; so it is not against the British officials. But in the case of other countries I will not say that they openly declare but they covertly insist upon the continuance of Commissions which, as to half of them, are really no longer necessary. I think therefore, that unless His Majesty's Government take a little further and more strenuous action than they have already taken, they are not fulfilling their obligations and duties to this country.
We have heard a great deal lately about the "Geddes Axe." The "Geddes Axe" has been applied and is being applied, I am glad to think, with a good deal of vigour in this country. Why not apply it also in this particular instance? Why not apply the principles of economy to these particular cases where we apparently abstain from applying them because it is supposed that the cost will come upon these other countries who are our former enemies? There can be no greater mistake than that. These ex-enemy countries are not in a position—and we all know it—to pay half, probably not a quarter, of the reparations that have been demanded of them. Yet we are increasing the amount of their liability by expenditure upon these Commissions. I think that His Majesty's Government and particularly the Foreign Office are treating this matter much too lightly, and, believe me, the country will take a very serious view of it if it continues.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, the most satisfactory feature in the statement made by the noble Earl was that he practically admitted that everything I said was true. He made no attempt to contest the figures I put forward, and I do not think it is possible to contest them. I am not going to reply in detail to his statement. I will content myself with saying that the position is so ridiculous and so preposterous that I am absolutely convinced that common sense must assert itself in time, and that just as we are forcing economy upon the Government here so, in their own interests, economy will eventually be forced upon the whole of the Allied Powers in regard to this matter.