HL Deb 14 March 1922 vol 49 cc499-502

My Lords, I beg to ask His Majesty's Government whether the sum of £32,000,000 paid to France by this country for railway services, billeting, rent of houses, occupation of land for military purposes, and compensation for damage during the years 1914 to 1920 inclusive, has been actually paid over, or whether it has been deducted from the French debt to this country; and whether a similar payment to France has been made by the American Government.

This Question was asked a short time ago in another place, and I repeat it here only because the reply given then seemed to be of a somewhat ambiguous character. Everybody knows that the French Government owes this country a sum of between £500,000,000 a ml £600,000,000, and I am merely asking for information as to whether we have actually paid over this amount of £32,000,000 or whether it was deducted from the French debt to this country. Perhaps when the noble Lord replies he may be able to inform me whether similar claims have been made against us by the Belgian and Italian Governments, because the circumstances appear to me to be precisely similar.


My Lords, I will endeavour to give as unambiguous an answer as I can to the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Newton. Prior to March, 1919, when an Agreement was entered into between His Majesty's Government and the French Government in accordance with which all future payments due to be made by His Majesty's Government to France would be set off against French indebtedness to Departments of His Majesty's Government, certain payments were made by the latter to the extent of some £30,000,000. That is, prior to March, 1919. In the greater number of these cases payment was made to the French Government as agents for railway companies and other French private individuals and companies. All payments due to France are now set off against French debts to this country.

An approximate division of this total of £30,000,000, which has been paid as I have already mentioned, would be as follows:—For railway services, £11,000,000. As regards this payment, at the outbreak of hostilities the French railway companies were obliged by law to place their undertakings at the disposal of the French Government at special rates of charges which were also enjoyed by the British military authorities, and monthly advances were made to the French Government—acting as agent for the railway companies— by the British military authorities on the basis of eleven-twelfths of the sum estimated to be due for payment. In reference to railway charges, since the Agreement of March, 1919, which I have mentioned, was entered into between His Majesty's Government and the French Government, a further sum of approximately £4,000,000 has been set off against French debts to this country.

Besides the £11,000,000 I have mentioned as paid approximately in respect to railway charges, payments have been made of about £8,000,000 altogether for billeting, rent, occupation of land, compensation for damage and so forth. These payments were met by two bodies known as the Claims Commission and the Directorate of 'firings and Requisitions, and arrangements were made by them in most cases with the Maire of the Commune concerned direct. All billeting and requisitioning ceased, however, in December, 1919.

Faits de guerre did not carry any right to an indemnity (and damage caused by trenches and other works on the field of battle or its borders was, therefore, excluded), but "preventive measures of defence"—for example, trenches constructed for instructional purposes—rank for indemnity. From the early part of 1919 onwards opportunity was taken by our Government to dispose of surplus stores, situated on land occupied by British troops, to the authorities or occupiers of the land in extinguishment of claims for rent or damage. This proved, in the opinion of His Majesty's Government, a most economical form of settlement. Of the £30,000,000 of which I spoke in the first instance, I have accounted for £11,000,000 paid for railways, and £8,000,000 under the last heading.

I now come to the third item—Miscellaneous. This is an amount of £11,000,000. The chief items included in this total were:—firstly, purchase of supplies, etc., by our military authorities in France (approximately £8,000,000); secondly, dock, harbour dues, and miscellaneous services for the British naval authorities (approximately £1,000,000); and, thirdly, insurance premix on French chartered steamers, and miscellaneous disbursements by the French Government on behalf of the Ministry of Shipping (approximately £1,000,000). As regards the last portion of my noble friend's Question, while I have no definite information on the point, I am given to understand that similar payments were made to France by the American Government. My noble friend desires to know if payments similar to those which I have mentioned as being made by our Government to the French Government were also made to the Belgian and Italian Governments. It was only last night that I heard from my noble friend regarding this particular point, and I am unable at present to give further information, but if he wishes to have detailed information on this matter I shall be happy to procure it for him.

House adjourned at a quarter before seven o'clock.